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Brief Thoughts on Drive

21 September 2011 by

Forget the map; the route is flawed

By Jack Kentala

Here’s how you do it right:

Take a dogshit script and, instead of throwing a few million at the marketing budget to get two decent box-office weekends and enough longtail cashflow like DVD sales and streaming rights, you hire the following people:

  • Director Nicolas Winding Refn, who helmed the challenging Broson and the criminally-underseen Valhalla Rising, to try to keep a hold on the nowhere-subplot-heavy screenplay and purge any unnecessary pap from something that should’ve been far more straightforward than the end product;
  • Director of Photography Newton Thomas Sigel (his best work: Confessions of a Dangerous Mind and Three Kings) to light nighttime driving scenes that don’t look like a lazy gaffer taped a mini-kino on the dash to give that always-lit sheen to the driver and passengers;
  • Editor Matthew Newman, who, hell, has basically only worked with Refn, but whose work on the triumvirate of Bronson, Valhalla Rising, and Driver should get him his ACE invite soon enough;
  • Supervising sound editor Lon Bender who, like any solid soundman, works for the sake of working (between the lines: he’s worked on a lot of duds), and, here, turns the roar of Fast Five to a whisper, in which cars pass like ships in the night save for a gentle razor-blade slice (I swear the source effects he used were lion and tiger roars);
  • Composer Cliff Martinez, who just runs with the not-motivated-whatsoever 80s vibe that seems relegated only to some pieces of music, the neon-pink cursive credits, and Ryan Gosling’s racing jacket;
  • Ryan Gosling, who acts across all levels of budget to gives James Franco a run for his money as the most chameleonesque actor of his generation; and, hell, he’s better than Franco;
  • Carey Mulligan, who’s criminally underused (and whose accent forgivably slips a few times); but then again, she’s been criminally underused in all of cinema except for her turn as the haunted Kathy H. in Never Let Me Go (which just might be the performance of her career… both past and future);
  • And Bryan Cranston since he’s Bryan fucking Cranston.

And then there’s what you don’t do but, well, sometimes end up doing them because of a crap script:

  • Have all sorts of gratuitous violence that is 1) sudden, 2) uncharacteristic of the characters, and 3) uncharacteristic of the actors portraying said characters;
  • Slap some 80s vibe on the posters and realize, shit, there’s nothing 80s about this movie;
  • Introduce about ten subplots or big details that are never important or explained (Gosling as a Hollywood stunt driver; Mulligan falling in love with a total dude [pre-Gosling, natch]; a mess of mob ties that go nowhere; the whole thing with the mask; and, well, how some parts of the ending just kind of fizzle out).
  • Start the movie with a taut setpiece that gets you hoping the movie will be that exciting, only to repeat a semi-heist later that doesn’t come close to eclipsing the beginning.

But this is me here. Probably the biggest compliment I can give Drive is that the ending is exactly what the characters and style dictate. Chalk it up to Hossein Amini, who wrote the adapted screenplay, or maybe credit is due to Refn for draining it of all surplus; or all bloated emotion (un)deserved by all bloodied Heroes that may or may not make it to the end of the movie is probably not what said Hero wants, or ever wanted, or ever will want.

Postscript: My WTF moment: Refn won Best Director at Cannes? Well, at least they gave Malick the Palme d’Or, else there’d be hell to pay. Drive is a good film, but a Palme d’Or winner it definitely is not.

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