Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive is an impressive example of genre filmmaking
By Jason Wood
From the enduring cult phenomenon of the Pusher trilogy through to more recent works, including Bronson and Valhalla Rising, Danish filmmaker Nicolas Winding Refn has displayed a fascination with dark and ambiguous characters whose behaviour often borders on psychosis. A taut adaptation of James Sallis’ celebrated pulp novel that retains the potent blend of noir existentialism, black humour and narrative economy found in the source material, Drive is exemplary filmmaking.A carefully calibrated study of loneliness and solitude that equates outsiderism with driving, Drive offers a knowing, yet never false, synthesis of Jean Pierre Melville’s Le Samouraï, Walter Hill’s The Driver and Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver, a connection accentuated by the casting of Albert Brooks as Bernie Rose, the businessman with nefarious connections who willingly concedes that “his hands are dirty”. Filmed in Los Angeles, Refn’s own outsider status and ability to look at familiar locations anew evokes John Boorman’s similarly hard-boiled Point Blank. As Refn notes “there are a number of parallels between Drive and Point Blank. [It] was made because Lee Marvin admired John Boorman and wanted to make a movie with him, and petitioned to bring him to LA. Boorman and I both obviously came from Europe and I think that this is reflected in our movies. Similarly, Boorman and Marvin went on to work with each other again, something that I am now experiencing with Ryan.”
“What really interested me was making the driver into a super-hero type figure and having him exist on the margins”, comments Refn of his emotionally remote Hollywood stuntman who moonlights as a getaway driver. When Driver comes into contact with Irene (a role significantly expanded from the novel to facilitate Carey Mulligan’s interest in the part), a struggling blue-collar mother whose husband is in prison, he can’t help falling a little in love with her. And yet, by his very nature, romantic involvement is denied. “He is compelled to adopt the role of her protector and actually sacrifice his own happiness on her behalf ”. Not for nothing does Driver – a performance of great subtly from Ryan Gosling – frequently don a featureless prosthetic mask.
Favouring mood, ambience and character over action (think of this as the best movie Michael Mann never made), Drive nonetheless features three meticulously executed ‘chase’ sequences, which are all the more memorable for being distinct from each other. In this regard Refn was exacting.
Ryan Gosling is Driver “Not only do these sequences vary from each other in the way that they are conceived and shot, but they are scored very differently too”. Starting from the principle that “I wanted to shoot at least one pursuit from the inside of the car to put the viewer in with the characters and give a sense of how close they could come at any moment to getting killed,” Refn also knew “that I wanted one of the sequences to build incrementally, like a game of chess”. The final sequence is perhaps the most potent. Replicating a game of cat and mouse, Driver’s hunting down of Ron Perlman’s double-crossing Nino is an impressive stealth attack that culminates in a sudden and quite shocking assault of metal on metal.
With thanks to Curzon Cinemas
Drive screens at Cornerhouse from Fri 23 September