As Summer ends in Late August, and movie studios hemorrhage terrible films from the bottom of their scrap heap, an interesting transition starts happening. A subtle industry shift from blockbusters to Oscar-worthy films, as if to atone for the terrible movies you've had to stomach in recent weeks. Gone are the 3D and Superheroes, dispatched in favor of stories with plot and characters. It's a beautiful thing to behold. Lately, I've had the pleasure of seeing Contagion (a gripping thriller for nerds and public alike, if a bit fluffy) and Warrior (incredible from start to finish, despite my preconceived notions to the contary). On Friday, I enjoyed one of my most anticipated Fall films: Drive, starring Ryan Gosling.
The premise of the film is simple. Ryan Gosling is a stunt-driver who moonlights as a getaway driver in LA. He knows the streets of LA the way you know your tiny hometown, the extent of which is clear from the very first sequence. He has a samurai-like quality to him that other reviewers have latched on to, a principled stoicism that is interesting to watch and impressive to pull off. As the film progressed, I started to draw other similarities, albeit tangentially to another retro-chic car-lustful film; Quentin Tarantino's Death Proof.
While the protagonists could not be more different; Kurt Russell as the raving, psychopathic 'Stuntman Mike' contrasts pretty vividly with Goslings reserved intensity, the two films start equally slowly, before gradually reaching a steady burn that turns to a raging boil in the final act. Both films also rely heavily on music to maintain a mood, Drive leaning heavily on synthesizers and 80's effects, while Tarantino and company stick to AM Rock and Roll playlists. Both share a penchant for shocking, brutal violence and exhilarating chase scenes that go to great lengths to put you inside the car. It is in telling the story that the two films begin to take different paths.
The first thing I noticed in Drive was the director Refn's unapologetic use of silence, not only from Gosling himself, but even in scenes he isn't a part of. Scenes between Albert Brooks and his goons, or Carey Mulligan and her young son are slow in nearly every sense of the word, utilizing slow-motion, slow camera pans and little dialogue, yet they manage to hold our attention. Apart from being just plain cool to see two characters leer at each other across a room or gaze wordlessly into each others eyes, it serves to infuse these scenes with an intensity that makes the bursts of action seem more potent (I know I almost fell out of my chair the first time a gun was fired). It is in these scenes that weaker actors and weaker directors would be tempted to fall into more traditional storytelling, with the false fear that audiences wouldn't have the patience for a more thoughtful heist/car/love story. Thankfully, Gosling and Refn are completely committed to the tone and pacing of this film, and our patience in them is rewarded in the end.