Monday, September 12, 2011

TIFF HIGHLIGHT #2: DRIVE (my favorite movie of the year so far)

Remember the last 10 minutes of 'Thief' when James Caan took out an entire mob all by himself? Remember the elevator scene in 'Sonatine' when Takeshi Kitano massacres an elevator full of people? Or how about the classic car chase scenes from 'Bullit', 'French Connection' or 'The Bourne Identity'? Nicolas Refn's 'Drive' is all of those things with additional nods to the film making styles of Stanley Kubrick (which can be seen in other Nicolas Refn films like 'Fear X' and 'Bronson') and Quentin Tarantino. Ever since 'Pulp Fiction' there's been a decade and a half of ultra violent and/or multi character films that get an undeserved comparison to it ('smokin aces', 'snatch', '2 days in the valley', 'Boondock Saints', 'Go', etc etc etc). But 'Drive' is one of the few films that actually deserves some comparison to stuff like 'Reservoir Dogs' and 'Pulp Fiction' as well as the films of Michael Mann.. Even the font used in the ads and the opening credits for 'Drive' are reminiscent of old action films from the 80's like 'Thief' or 'To Live & Die In LA'....

'Thief' (1981) 

1. Ad for 'Drive'

'To Live & Die In LA' (1985)

2. Ad for 'Drive'

In 'Drive', Ryan Gosling plays a Hollywood stuntman by day and a getaway car driver by night. On his latest getaway car assignment (which he takes out of the kindness of his heart to help out a girl he's in love with) he gets caught up in a somewhat convoluted double crossing that goes terribly wrong (at no fault of his own) and now gangsters are after him. Instead of running and hiding, he takes the fight to them, showing that he can do more than just drive cars. In fact, Gosling's violent temper is quite over the top at times. Through the course of the movie we see graphic close-ups of shotgun blasts to the face, people being beaten with hammers, repeated throat stabbings (courtesy of Albert Brooks) and a face smashing scene that rivals the opening of Gaspar Noe's 'Irreversible'. ‘Drive’ has more than its share of clichés. But Nicolas Refn seems to embrace all of that. There’s plenty of moments in the film that Nicolas Refn clearly put in just because it looked cool. But for some reason that doesn't seem to bother me. It’s SO entertaining and fun. And all of these clichés are mixed with great film making and cinematography, so it balances everything out. Prior to 'Drive', Nicolas Refn had pretty much been labeled an "art house" director. But in just about all of his films he seemed to dabble in violence and action more & more. Looking at his last 2 features like the 'Clockwork Orange'-influenced 'Bronson' and the tripped out 'Valhalla Rising', which were both action films disguised as art house films, it only makes sense that his next movie be an all out entertaining, crossover action movie for ALL audiences (and not just snobs like me). 

the calm before the storm - 'Sonatine'

the calm before the storm - 'Drive'

violence erupts in elevator

The beauty of Drive's existence is all of the movies that it either references or has similarities too (whether it be intentionally or subconsciously). Just about anyone who loves good action films should be able to enjoy this. I mean just look back at all the movies that I've name dropped in this review so far. If you're a fan of the 1980's William Freidken, Michael Mann, Cronenberg, Quentin Tarantino or Stanley Kubrick, you're going to LOVE this movie.

steve mcqueen in 'Bullit'

Gosling in 'Drive'

Willis w/ hammer in 'Pulp Fiction'

Gosling w/ hammer in 'Drive'

Scorpion Jacket from Kenneth
Anger's 'Scorpio Rising'

The Dirver's scorpion jacket that he
wears all through out 'Drive'

The lead role in 'Drive', which was originally intended for Hugh Jackman, was important for Ryan Gosling. He needed to establish himself as an all around leading man. He's considered one of the best young actors out today, yet action is the one realm he hadn't conquered. ...Until now. He's clearly shown that he can hold it down in dramatic films ('Half Nelson' & 'Valentine'), psychological thrillers ('Murder By Number' & 'Frantic') and heartfelt comedies ('Lars & The Real Girl'), so it was only right that a great action film was his next conquest. It’s as if he called upon the spirit of Alain Delon (with a quietly violent temper) and gave one of his best performances. The rest of the cast, made up of everyone from Ron Perlman & Bryan Cranston to Carry Mulligan & Christina Hendricks is great. But the standout performance, aside from Gosling, is from Albert Brooks who plays a more than convincing villain. This is probably Albert Brooks' best performance since Steven Soderbergh's 'Out Of Sight'. Anyone familiar with Brooks' career should know that not only is he recognized for comedies, but the roles he plays are usually weaselly and/or dorkish characters. He's quite ruthless in 'Drive'. This may be one of the best ensemble casts in a LONG time. Everything just seemed to fall in to place. You have 3 of the most popular TV actors at the moment: Ron Perlman (sons of anarchy), Christina Hendricks (mad men) and Bryan Cranston (breaking bad), 2 of the most popular young actors out right now (Ryan Gosling and Carey Mulligan) and a veteran actor (Albert Brooks), all in the same film. 


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