Saturday, October 8, 2011

What I Saw: Drive

What I Saw: Drive

It’s been two weeks since I saw Drive, and the movie is still rolling around in my head. That’s a good thing for a piece of art, when I have to step back from the pedestrian observations on whether I “liked” it or not, and am forced (or at least, willingly invited) to think through the cinematic style and character development.

A word of warning: Drive has several unflinchingly violent scenes of the type that I usually consider unnecessarily graphic, except that this time they are actually necessary for the story and the character development.

The film opens with perhaps the best car chase in film history. Instead of revving the engines and performing impossible stunts that fly off the end of a cliff, Ryan Gosling’s get away involves using the break pedal, and hiding in the plain view of a crowd. It’s smart. And in reality, it’s probably a better way to avoid the cops. Director Nicolas Winding Refn then invites us to accompany Carey Mulligan as she falls in love with Gosling, using prolonged shots, silence and smiles instead of the typical slick talk of exaggerated romance.

For me, it is this first half of the film which makes the violence of the second act necessary as a critique of genre, character and societal infatuation. As we fall in love with Gosling’s character, we reenact our society’s love for crime-ridden dramas and gas-guzzling vehicles. But unlike other films which pretend that these are harmless, Drive shows us the violent underside of this infatuation. Do we really believe that all of the criminals and get-away artists we revere in the movies are wholesome and peaceful? Can we not see the connection between our love of cars and our wars for oil? If we insist on falling for men who are mysterious and secretive, can we really be surprised when they are actually hiding something?

I’ve read some other reviews that talk about the film being “style over substance.” They are wrong. And the much-hyped elevator scene proves it. Other critics may pretend that there is a dichotomy in this scene between tenderness and violence, but I believe that Refn is sending us a singular message: We are a culture which is swept off its feet by violence, not in spite of it. It underlies all that came before.

Oscar Chances:

Lead Actor: Ryan Gosling (currently ranked 10)
Supporting Actor: Albert Brooks (currently ranked 17, but likely to be in the top 5 in my next predictions. I wasn’t terribly impressed by him, but I think that Hollywood will reward him for playing against type.)
Cinematography: Newton Thomas Sigel (currently ranked 13)
Adapted Screenplay: Hossein Amini (currently ranked 14)
Best Picture (currently ranked 24)
Film Editing: Matthew Newman (currently ranked 32, likely to rise in my next predictions)
Supporting Actress: Carey Mulligan (currently ranked 32)
Best Director: Nicolas Winding Refn (currently ranked 39, but likely to rise in my next predictions)
Visual Effects (currently ranked 19, likely to fall in my next predictions)
Sound Editing (currently ranked 29)
Sound Mixing (currently ranked 29)
Score: Cliff Martinez (currently unranked, but may appear in next predictions)
Art Direction: Beth Mickle and Lisa K. Sessions (currently unranked)
Costume Design: Eric Benach (currently unranked)
Makeup: Gerald Quist and Medusah (currently unranked)

My Lamb Score: 4 out of 5 Lambs
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Read more of my reviews HERE.


  1. Just saw the movie last night. It had a refreshing mix between 'A History of Violence', 'No Country for Old Men', and even a little bit of 'Taxi Driver'.

    Great Review!

  2. Thanks Austin! I hadn't thought of these, but now that you mention them, I can indeed see the connections between these four films.

  3. Great review and I agree that the elevator scene is one of the best scenes of the year.

    I think the film's only chance at a nomination is Albert Brooks. That category is very weak so it is certainly possible. I really hope, however, that it gets nominated for Best Sound Mixing, the sound was just so well done.

  4. I agree on the Sound Mixing, and would love to see Refn, Gosling and Film Editing sneak in too. But I think Brooks is the best bet.