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Sunday, October 23, 2011

Drive

The unsmiling no-name no-nonsense protagonist who talks 3 words per minute, keeps going about his business until fate intervenes and a makes mighty mess his way. Then there are sudden bursts of extreme violence, which leave him mostly unruffled, that add depth, maybe charisma too, to his personality. We've seen Clint Eastwood don some of these in the 60s. Drive, starring Ryan Gosling directed by Nicolas Refn is a mature 21st century reimagining of that genre. While this is undoubtedly more mature and satisfying than the buttered popcorn action flicks that pop out of Hollywood studios, there's nothing for deep introspection here.

Consider this scene: the Driver (the protagonist is unnamed) is taking his neighbor Irene (in a wonderfully understated performance by Carey Mulligan) out on a date. Before they leave we hear the phone ringing. And in the car she says "That's my husband's lawyer. He says my husband will be out next week". A long silence ensues. The husband is in the prison. There's something blooming between the driver and the neighbor. The husband's return is obviously going to complicate things. I hate to use the word 'art' here, but usually in cinemas that allow for long pauses between conversations, like... er, arthouse productions, the director is giving the audience enough time to grasp and absorb what had just happened on the screen - a death or a divorce or an infidelity. Here, it doesn't even take two seconds after Irene's uttering - the audience know beforehand that the husband will be out of prison and the status quo will be disturbed. Why the long pause? This cinema has probably half the number of words compared with any other movie of similar running length. And I admit that the silence is soothing, mostly because it's better than filler dialogues. But it's important to distinguish between this soothing silence and a meditative silence where what transpires on the scene is deep.

The laconic and cold driver makes money as a get-away driver for the robbers who either don't have their own transportation facility or lack the skill to evade L.A.P.D on L.A roads. His rule is to just wait for 5 minutes outside the event, pickup the party and drop them off at a safe place. So when he realizes his pseudo-girlfriend's husband is in trouble to pay off his prison debts, a matter of few thousands, he steps in to help - the husband will steal and the driver will drive. There's no ulterior motive: not to send him to prison again; the help seems genuine. Makes one wonder what would have happened if the heist had gone right and their neighbors lived happily ever after. After all, the driver is, in more than one sense of the word, a hero. But shit hits the fan spectacularly. The husband is killed and the driver is on the run. We learn that it's no job for a small-time crook. A lot of money is involved and the mafia is behind it. Needless to say, some heads roll are pulped.

This film has got style - Ryan Gosling's minimalism, not just words, but expressions, Carey Mulligan's vulnerability as a single mother, the terrific score helping the noirish photography, non-commercial violence, enjoyable silence and more. But at the core, even though Refn has invested enough time in developing his primary characters, I really didn't care if they got together in the end. Now, I don't want a climax where the hero/heroine race through the airport and one of the people in the background say something romantic. But, even by the standards of neo-noir I had the least bit interested in the driver starting a new life with Irene. The objective here seems to be excellent filmmaking, not making an excellent film.