Monday, 3 October 2011

drive (d nicolas refn, w hossein amini)

It's been almost a week since I saw Drive and the predominant memory is not the violence or Gosling's assured performance or the beautifully rendered love story or even the eurotrash score. It's the shocking pink font used for the titles and credits.

This pinkness lends a neon brashness to proceedings from the start. It has the feel of a directorial flourish. As though to suggest that nothing we see needs to be taken too seriously. It also has the feeling of a foreigner's take on LA: bright party colours and recklessness. There's a moment in the film when Albert Brooks' gangster says that he used to be in the film business years ago. He describes the films he made, films which sound suitably commercial for a gangster boss, and at the end he says: they used to call them European. It feels as though Refn's Drive is fulfilling that same brief: a Hollywood notion of what a European film might be, in their dreams. (Not the Europeans).

Refn, with his flair for mood and violence, feels like the kind of European who'd fit in well in Hollywood. Which isn't an insult. If Drive is essentially 'noir' it's easy to forget now that that style, later re-appropriated by the Europeans, was developed in the US by exiles, the likes of Fritz Lang, Wilder, Siodmak etc. The city is reduced to a grid wherein human passions are worked out with all their dramatic implications. LA, with its lack of recognisable landmarks, is the perfect laboratory. Gosling spends his time driving through anonymous streets. There's no hint of where he comes from. He's a perfectly alienated twenty first century being. The first thing that appears to give any meaning to his life is the appearance in it of the gamine Irene, another apparent drifter.

On many levels therefore, Drive might be seen as a cynical movie. The throwaway violence, the rootlessness, the pink font: it's as though the hyper-smart Refn is both showing off with his technical acumen and also suggesting that this is basically a Hollywood B-movie and we shouldn't take it too seriously. (I'd even include the way he directs Gosling in this, for all the plaudits the pair have received: to my mind it's almost a tongue-in-cheek performance, an homage rather than something rooted in any genuine feeling.) However, there's one aspect of the film which transcends everything else. Which is the love affair: not so much in that it happens, as it's a necessary plot requirement, but in the way in which it is portrayed. It's not often that you'll see a director pinpoint the mechanics of love as beautifully as Refn does in Drive. All of a sudden, his taciturn style pays dividends. Mulligan and Gosling barely speak to one another. Yet it's evident that each has transformed the other's life utterly. It's all in the not-said, even the not-done. There's one moment where she places her hand on his, and this tells you all you need to know.

So, underneath the cynicism, there lurks a romantic sensibility. I got the feeling throughout the film that Refn's directing was like watching a sportsman playing at half-pace. In his depiction of the love affair, it suddenly feels like he's moving up through the gears. The rest is functional and assured. You can't help wondering what kind of film Refn will make when he's really going for it; as well as wondering if he's so good at playing the system that he'll never really have to stretch himself.

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