Its recent absence from the Oscars has spurred me to write this defence of Drive. The academy needs a serious evaluation of its criteria when it can snub a film as well made as this.
Listen to the audio file above while you read this.
Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive earnt a nomination for the Palm D’Or at Cannes and scored Refn the win for Best Director. Most known for his screenplay/direction of Bronson back in 2008 - the film that did for Tom Hardy what A Clockwork Orange did for Malcom McDowell - Refn has struck cinematic gold with his latest ultraviolent romp Drive.
A leather gloved Ryan Gosling grips the steering wheel under the city night lights, toothpick in mouth, calculating on the ticking watch on his dashboard. His clients are taking too long on the job. In a few moments the driver will start the car and be gone, leaving them with no escape. The driver’s logic is unquestionable, his resolve steel and his compassion tied up on the backseat. He needs no one.
He simply drives - by day for Hollywood, by night for the underworld.
Do not go into Drive expecting mindless Jason Statham action sequences, because this film is nothing like that. This film is the story of a machine, a system, becoming compromised and destroyed by the poison of compassion.
When Irene (Carey Mulligan) and her young son move in next door to the machine, the walls start to come down. One by one, the driver’s values and disciplines start to crack as he falls for her and the solitary puzzle piece finds his place. The situation becomes shaken up with the arrival of the boy’s father, Standard (Oscar Isaac), who has been in prison. When Standard is unable to protect his family from his past, the driver intervenes and soon becomes entangled in a botched robbery that threatens the only things he loves in his life.
Albert Brooks and Ron Perlman menace as the film’s antagonistic mobsters whilst Bryan Cranston (From NBC’s excellent Breaking Bad ) plays the driver’s crooked but fatherly manager. It should be noted that a good film can be held up by either a protagonist who’s the best at their profession or a ruthlessly motivated antagonist. This film has both.
The cinematography creates a phenomenal aesthetic of blurred city lights, rain covered windshields, palm trees and dingy L.A apartments. You feel the furious precision of the driver, every calculation, every look, every thought that flashes through his mind on screen.
The faux eighties style suits the film brilliantly, from the distinct pink handwritten titles to the electronic pop score by Cliff Martinez. The best though, comes from the track posted above and “A Real Hero” by College. The lyrics paint a picture of the entire film’s primary discourse: the machine’s transformation into a real human being and a real hero. It fits superbly despite being maybe a little heavy handed.
Drive's minimalistic dialogue is as precise and subtle as its protagonist, communicating the emotion and subtext effortlessly with a number of lines resonating in the theatre as the credits roll.
Perhaps the only thing that lets this film down is its vague ending, which some audiences may find a little unfulfilling. Nevertheless, Drive stands as a beautifully crafted story that breaks from the traditional Hollywood style just enough to keep mainstream audiences and film critics pleased.
It’s as if someone threw a brick on the film’s accelerator as it powers furiously down an inevitable and unsettling path. With chilling performances from the leads and its own brutally realist style, the main kicker about Drive is simply how undeniably unstable the driver really is. Drive was undeniably one of the best films of the year, my personal favourite for 2011.
You know what the problem with being a film student seeing films is?
No, it isn’t the common misconception that we can no longer enjoy films when we go to the cinema, rather it’s the simple fact that when we see a film done badly we complain all the more because we can see where exactly they went wrong.
It’s like a trained chef watching someone burn sausages at a barbeque, they don’t want to be the guy to tell the inebriated cook that at some point you actually need to turn them over but at the same time they don’t want to left with a mouth full of charcoal.
I’d first heard about Attack the Block when I opened up my Brisbane International Film Festival guide to find it plastered across the opening pages. I couldn’t help but notice it was:
"From the Producers of Shaun of the Dead!”
As someone who loved Shaun of the Dead this line instilled a hopeful skepticism in me. If they had to include that on the poster…more often than not it’s them stretching for acclaim.
Writer and Director Joe Cornish (Writer of the The Adam And Joe Show and the new Tin Tin film) brings us his first independent feature with Attack The Block, a science fiction x inner city crime film set on a grugy housing estate in London.
The visual style of The Block was little more interesting than an episode of any E4 television series, which really leaves you hugely underwhelmed and disappointed in the neglect of potential style that Science Fiction crossed with Inner City Crime genre offers you. The creatures in this particular monster romp seem to be hiding under the excuse of “If Doctor Who get away with it, so can we” and for the most part they do. Except the monsters in Doctor Who are usually more haunting than glorified gorillas with techno-fan dentists.
I would be willing to put this aside if the story was interesting enough (which I do when it’s with the Who), but herein lies the film’s main problem: it shoots itself in the foot in the opening five minutes.
It’s New Years Eve. It’s been a difficult year for young Sam. She’s been forced to move to the wrong side of the estate while she enters the monotony of the London work force. It’s been snowing and the cold air bites at her skin and whisps her hair as she walks down empty cobbled streets. She’s alone, vulnerable and the sort of girl you would generously tip if you came across her in a coffee shop.
So of course when she’s surrounded by a gang of street scrouts in hoodies on bikes weilding knives and swearing at her, who do you think the audience sides with?
The leader of the hoodlums, Moses (John Boyega), only really develops into a relatable character about 2/3rds of the way through the film, at which point we’ve already accepted the fact that he’s the one we’re meant to be looking at, not the plethora of other great young comical actors. Had they painted Moses more in a way of the likeable King of Theives archetype rather than some immature thug perhaps we would be able to develop some pathos for him, but unfortunately, The Block makes the same mistake Brighton Rock did last year.
We follow Moses and his gang of merry bastards as they patrol the estate looking for little old ladies to wail on when the sky begins to fall. About ten minutes later the streets are filled with radiactive gorillas tearing out people’s jugulars and you begin to wonder if the writer had just started to run out of room on the napkin he’d been scribbling the idea on.
Inherently, the ensemble cast is what carries the film, with each of the small stories interesting enough to combine into something mildly watchable. Nick Frost makes a too small appearance as an estate hermit drug dealer but is not nearly given the humourous room he deserves and the younger part of the cast holds their own well, finding a humourous niche within the film that the little blighters never let go of.
So you get all the way through this monster mash to find yourself at an ending full of police brutality and discrimination commentary and just like the arrival of the monsters you find yourself thinking “where the fuck did that come from?”.
The entire film is never quite anything, but has enough little quirks, jokes and pop culture references to be entertaining enough. The humour of the film is the most redeemable feature, but isn’t nearly strong enough to carry it. The moral journey, however, is awkwardly lacking and seems to have got lost in the muddled plot and characters you don’t much care for.
"But does a film like this need a good moral journey?" I hear you ask. Short answer: yes of course it does. I don’t want to be comparing this to Shaun of the Dead but— actually, no, fuck it, yes I do, that’s a fine comparison.
Shaun was one of the best independant films to come out of the United Kingdom in years. The witty script, original concept and fresh shooting style was crammed with detail and hugely memorable (and quoteable) moments, which makes it one of the most watchable and rewatchable films of the decade. It combined two distinct genres in an original way and told a clear, coherent story with strong pacing and a strong style.
Attack the Block doesn’t match that standard, contrary to the current Rotten Tomatoes score (90 at time of writing). Sure, it’s enjoyable enough, you get your monies worth for a saturday afternoon, but is it the sort of film you’re going to go back and watch it again in 3 months?