Much hullabaloo has been made about the relation of Ridley Scott’s Prometheus to the Alien franchise that he began back in 1979. None of that, it turns out, was justified: this is a straightforward prequel to Scott’s original film, bearing scenes and sequences that seem directly copied from its predecessor while gluing on a ponderous philosophical exoskeleton that is largely mumbo-jumbo and that seems to run parallel, not integral, to what is happening on screen.
- Friend: I saw Drive on Friday
- Jentleman: what'd you think?
- Jentleman: (I loved it, I probably told you already)
- Friend: I'm glad I saw it and enjoyed the chromatography, music, and many of the performances, but ultimately didn't think that it really had anything interesting to say.
- Friend: I loved Albert Brooks' performance, especially in light of most of his other movies.
- Friend: It was essentially all style and very little substance. (Though I'm sure an auteur like Refn would probably argue that the style is the substance.) And frankly, I'm OK with that. But it didn't ascend to the level of greatness we've discussed in the past.
- Jentleman: hmm, I don't disagree
- Jentleman: I've been thinking a lot about it since seeing and writing about it
- Jentleman: and I've concluded that it is above all else a visceral pleasure
- Jentleman: I mean, it's just so much cooler and more stylish than anything else that's come out since... well, I don't know since when
- Jentleman: I'm tempted to say Kill Bill, but Drive is way better
- it's definitely lacking the substance of There Will Be Blood, which is the last movie that impacted me in the way that it did
- Jentleman: I think it's biggest accomplishment is probably in challenging ideas of what movies can or should look like
- Jentleman: (and I mean 'look like' in a very literal way)
- Jentleman: *its
- Jentleman: which I think is what I got so excited about
- Jentleman: and am still excited about
- Jentleman: but you're right that its accomplishment is almost entirely a visual and visceral one
- Jentleman: (I guess that's all a very roundabout way of saying that I agree with you)
- Friend: I suppose I didn't find the challenge in itself especially compelling because I felt like it had been done before
- Jentleman: I kept getting flashbacks to '80s movies
- Friend: It took the template of the classic revenge flick and put some New Wave gloss on it
- Jentleman: Blade Runner
- Friend: yeah
- Friend: with an 80s soundtrack
- Jentleman: yeah, which really sealed the comparison
- Friend: Notice that the font used in the title is from "Grease"
- Friend: in neon pink
- Friend: and that Gosling's jacket is straight 80s
- Jentleman: uhh, that's not the Grease font
- Jentleman: but yeah, the jacket is
- Jentleman: the saturated colors, the synth-heavy soundtrack
- Friend: Um ok
- Friend: wrong about the font
- Friend: BUT
- Jentleman: you're right that that shit was organic to the bombastic 80s
- Friend: the scene on the culvert basically evokes Grease
- Friend: among other films
- Jentleman: yeah, it has that vibe
- Jentleman: (actually I loved that scene)
- Jentleman: but that 80s style has completely fallen off the map
- Jentleman: what's so impressive about Drive is that it manages to make them hyper-cool instead of just over the top
- Jentleman: (not that Drive isn't over the top)
- Jentleman: we associate that look with movies that are either super corny or overtly operatic, depending on how successful they are
- Jentleman: both of those are things that Drive isn't
- Jentleman: more pertinently... I would say that it's 80s-reminiscent without being straight out of the 80s
- Jentleman: it reappropriates and modernizes, but you couldn't call it retro
If you’re just reading about Drive for the first time, you’d be forgiven for grouping in a class with movies like White Heat or, more recently, The Town. It shares with those films one of the classic storylines of Hollywood crime flicks: a seemingly simple job goes wrong, leaving the principals involved to pick up the pieces and do their best to escape with their lives. Such is the case in Drive, wherein Ryan Gosling plays a Hollywood stunt driver who moonlights as an expert getaway man.
Yet Drive, muscularly directed by Danish filmmaker Nicolas Winding Refn, is more akin to Blade Runner, another dreamy, dark vision of Los Angeles, or even There Will Be Blood, two other examples of that rare breed of film that prefers images to words. Make no mistake: this is easily the most stylish movie that you’ll see in theaters this year, and the most visually evocative, as well (with due respect to the ambitious project of The Tree of Life). And, though it quickly establishes its bona fides as a full-bodied thriller in the pulse-pounding, white-knuckle opening scene, an accomplishment all the more remarkable for the almost total lack of dialogue and pyrotechnics, it is also an enormously complex piece of work, one that pushes the boundaries of what film is capable of.
The film’s Los Angeles is a place of richly saturated color and endless lights, a creation akin to Michael Mann’s cityscapes or, on a smaller scale, to the Memphis of Hustle and Flow, another movie about desperate dreams. It is also a place where the line between those dreams and the reality of sudden, horrific violence is so thin as to be almost nonexistent. Indeed, Drive’s atonal use of violence is offputting and seems initially out of place in a movie that at other times comes so close to visual poetry. I’m still not convinced that it isn’t overdone, but the point is clear: dream as we might, there is nothing beautiful in death.
A few words must be spared, as well, for both for the film’s performances and its soundtrack, which is reminiscent of the synth-heavy scores of ‘80s classics like Chariots of Fire and the aforementioned Blade Runner, and which is almost as central to creating the style of the film as the photography it is paired with. Ryan Gosling and Carey Mulligan, meanwhile, might well have complained about not having anything to work with — there’s comparatively little dialogue, especially for Gosling’s stoic driver — but, as with so much about this film, less is apparently more. Neither character says all that much (though Mulligan’s Irene is certainly more talkative), but the fact that they’re both able to communicate so much with no more than their bodies and faces and the occasional gesture makes both performances remarkable.
It’s rare that I can find nothing negative of substance to say about a movie. Drive is one of those, and the first I’ve seen in theaters since, probably, There Will Be Blood. There are other releases to be excited about in 2011, but I have a hard time seeing how they’ll top this one.