Thursday, 29 December 2011

[527] Drive: Den of Geek's Film of the Year 2011

Two controversial articles in a row! Here it is, my final piece for Den of Geek this year, which looks at Drive - the film voted best of 2011 by the site's writers.

I didn't get to see Drive in the initial flurry of preview screenings which had critics fainting with delight; I saw it much later, in a double-bill with Martin Scorsese's George Harrison doc Living in the Material World, at the Ritzy cinema in Brixton.

Both films were striking, but Drive really stuck with me. It both excited me and confounded me. I'm glad I've had a chance to decompress about it - and write about what it does well, and how it works despite lacking some of the qualities I would otherwise deem integral to a successful modern film. It's come dangerously close to changing my stubborn critical approach to cinema. There aren't many films that do that.

Actually, no. I only like it because I feel I have to. So says the following comment from DoG reader 'thewicked', anyway:

Its the film people "want" as their favorite, because its "cool". But being cool doesnt nessecarily make it deserving of the accolade, and signify's all that is wrong with movie awards. 

Sic, obviously.

Drive, Den Of Geek’s undisputed film of the year (getting more than double the votes of Black Swan in second place), was iconic before it was even released. The film’s reputation preceded it, thanks to a moody trailer, a hot-pink title font, and the casting of actor du jour Ryan Gosling in the lead role. All pointed towards a stylish, noirish thriller that oozed urban cool, and to say it delivered would be an absurd understatement. Everything, from the music to the performances, from the composition to the cinematography, seemed perfectly pitched.

Indeed, such are Drive’s strengths that its one flaw - which could be major, minor, or irrelevant depending on your viewpoint - is almost completely banished. The plot, adapted from a neo-noir paperback, and developed from an optioned Hollywood project originally set to star Hugh Jackman, is quite conventional, at times even rote. The nameless antihero falls for the wife of an ex-con, and through a sense of duty helps the husband clear his debt with a low-level crook. Unfortunately, the job is botched, and the ensuing bloodbath sees the protagonist slip further and further into moral ambiguity.

It’s not going to win any awards for its screenplay, but the themes are solid and the stock characters are timeless. Drive could as much be a Western as a noir; but it is in the execution that it all comes to life. Truly, this is a film for which awards for directing were made, and Nicolas Winding Refn’s Best Director win at Cannes is well deserved. Throughout, there is a confidence in the direction, and a boldness in the filmmaker’s decisions.

Take, for example, the consistent stripping back of dialogue, often to the point where scenes are almost wordless. In the opening act, this is frequently astonishing, as the driver’s romance with his neighbour, Irene (Carey Mulligan), blossoms not over conversation, but through small moments: shared looks, smiles and murmurs. Refn exhibits patience, restraint, and, most of all, absolute faith in his actors, and both Gosling and Mulligan manage to evoke so much with such minimalistic performances.

Read the full article here.

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