Introduction to Drive (Nicolas Winding Refn, 2011)
It’s the film that has wowed critics and audiences for its ultra-stylish ultra-violence, and has sent every heterosexual male blogger I know (myself included) #gayforGosling. Here’s the text to an introduction I gave earlier this month on Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive.
If you’re after an actual “what did you think of it?” review, fear not – I covered it last month for Clothes on Film. You can read my Drive review here.
Introduction to Drive
One thing cinema does really well is cars. From James Bond’s custom-fitted Aston Martin right through to Ayrton Senna racing through the rain in this year’s hit Senna, cars have provided movies with an uneviable cool factor.
Aptly, the history of cars runs in parallel to the history of Hollywood – Henry Ford was a contemporary of cinema’s pioneers, and the making of vehicles and movies became huge money-spinning production lines. Silent comedy wouldn’t have been as funny if Chaplin, Keaton or The Keystone Kops hadn’t been able to make jokes about cars.
The Driver was one of a number of modern film noirs made during the late 1970s and early 1980s, about existential cops and robbers who lived in neon-soaked urban streets, listened to pulsates electro-pop, dressed like models and drove like Formula One champions.
Tonight’s film, Drive, is a loving throwback to these films. Its visuals are a late-night dream of steel and neon, the synthesized music score throbs with retro-cool, the clothes – notably a white satin jacket with a scorpion motif on the back – are to die for. And its nameless hero, who performs stunts for the movies by day, but is a getaway driver by night, lives to drive. We never learn anything of his previous life, he seldom even speaks, but we get who he is the moment he pushes the accelerator.
It’s important to have the right actor behind the wheel – and, in Ryan Gosling, Drive has got just the guy. Gosling has been a cult figure for nearly a decade now, whispered about as one of the best actors of this generation – and Drive, a project he helped to bring to the screen, gives him an iconic character worthy of the hype.
Gosling started out in Disney’s Mouseketeers, coincidentally during the same troupe as Britney Spears, Justin Timberlake and Christina aguliera. He could have become a singer – indeed, he does sing in a band, called Dead Man’s Bones – but his tastes always tended towards the leftfield. He made his name playing a self-hating, Jewish neo-Nazi in The Believer. At the age of only 26, he scored an Oscar nomination for Best Actor in Half Nelson, playing a high school teacher with a secret crack addiction. In Lars And The Real Girl, he embarks on a love affair with a blow-up sex doll.
And, just in case you thought he was too weird, he won the hearts of a generation of teenagers in mainstream romantic drama The Notebook.
2011, though, is shaping up to be the year of Ryan Gosling. January saw the release of Blue Valentine, a dark drama about a relationship on the rocks. Gosling stuck with the project for years, through various financial difficulties, and even had his hairline pushed back to play ageing slacker Dean. Last month, on the same day that Drive was released, he starred with Steve Carell in rom-com Crazy, Stupid, Love. And at the end of this month, he’s the co-star in George Clooney’s new film, The Ides Of March.
But it’s Drive for which he’ll be remembered. Like Steve McQueen in Bullitt, Gosling was extremely hands-on, choosing that scorpion jacket and hand-picking the director. He couldn’t have found a better choice. Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn became a sensation in the 1990s for the cool, edgy and violent crime drama Pusher, but he struggled to make early promise translate into bigger and better projects. His U.S. debut, Fear X, remains little seen. As recently as 2007, Refn was so stuck for work he came to Britain to direct an episode of Marple.
Weirdly, though, that was the job that turned his career around. He stayed in Britain to direct Bronson, about the life of notorious jailbird Charles Bronson, and where he combined his flair for stylish violence with the ability to turn a promising actor – in this case, Tom Hardy – into a movie star. The bonkers Viking action movie Valhalla Rising confirmed that Refn had got his mojo back, and that’s when Gosling came calling.
Drive is one of those films in which the star and director are in perfect sync, as Gosling becomes part of Refn’s ultra-stylish, ultra-violent aesthetic. Refn won the Best Director prize at this year’s Cannes film festival, not least for making Gosling look like a movie star with the looks of James Dean, the charisma of Steve McQueen, and the volatility of Robert De Niro. The two have become the best of friends, and are already working on several new projects, including a rumoured remake of sci-fi classic Logan’s Run. Clearly, having got in the car together, these two can’t slow down. Bullitt and The French Connection, the 1970s saw films about cars almost become their own genre, from thrillers like Vanishing Point to comedies like The Cannonball Run. Towards the end of the decade, Walter Hill’s The Driver – a stylish thriller about a getaway driver – turned the attention on the guy behind the wheel.