Tuesday, 3 January 2012

Drive - Neon Noir

A surprise late entry at the nick of time to make it onto the list my favourite films of 2011 is Nicolas Winding Refn’s film Drive, starring Ryan Gosling.

This film simply astounds with its style. Not your typical action thriller, it's a largely restrained affair punctuated with sudden bursts of ultraviolence.

One of the things that first hit me was the 80s styled electro soundtrack (I almost jumped out of my seat with joy when they played Kavinsky’s ‘Nightcall’ over the opening credits), coupled with a brooding synth score by Cliff Martinez.

With the pink GTA:Vice City style titles and flying overhead cityscapes of a neon lit LA, the 80s vibe is set early on.

The lighting in the film is consistently striking. From the aforementioned nighttime driving sequences to beautiful sunrises and sunsets (in particular the scene driving in the aqueduct) it is truly something to behold.

Plenty of slow motion is utilised too – but unlike the overkill of Zack Snyder for instance, Refn uses it often in quieter moments (not during action scenes) to capture the serenity – the calm before the storm.

Whilst this is a thriller centred around a driver (and there are thrilling driving sequences), the majority of the time that we see Gosling’s character in his car it is peaceful and serene - speaking volumes about the character without him having to say a word. Unlike say The Transporter, where The Stath often gets out of the car and engages in raging martial arts, this driver can only really truly express himself within the car. It is an extension of him. Such is his finesse behind the wheel he almost floats around the city.

The Western connections are also very apparent – he is a nameless man, silent and stoic, always chewing on a toothpick. A tragic hero, trying to escape his criminal past but is unavoidably drawn back into violence in order to protect an innocent woman and child (in the form of his neighbour and her son, played by Carey Mulligan).

For all its dreamy quiet there is the brutal violence that acts as its counterbalance. Abrupt, vicious and bloody, the portrayal of violence in this film is never glamourised and is often shown to be grounded in grim reality - all the more shocking in contrast to the film’s gentler moments.

This is a beautifully filmed 80s styled noir crime thriller that manages to be highly stylised without being overly pretentious or filled with brash inconsequential Hollywood action film moments. With a surprisingly effective lead turn from Ryan Gosling, Drive is definitely one of my top films of this year.

31 Dec 2011

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