Dir- Nicolas Winding Refn
Year – 2011
Running Time – 100 Mins
Screen writing Genre – Whydunnit (Noir)
Drive, based on the novel of the same name is a visually visceral film set in the neon glitz of LA. The visual style and iconic soundtrack help to elevate a stunning performance from Ryan Gosling as he makes his way through a dark and dangerous Noir world by working as a stunt driver in the day, and a getaway man at night.
What’s in a name?
The title doesn’t give us much to go on. It hints at the cheap and nasty Noir novels of old but gives very little away about anything else. The name like the film contains a large amount of mystery (Our hero is never named throughout). The poster line of “Get in. Get Out. Get Away” hints at the no nonsense and somewhat blunt nature of the movies tone and style.
What makes it great?
In a word – style. The music used is unique in that it creates a new wave synth soundtrack that hints at the eighties. The slow electro blends beautifully with the high definition neon tinged visuals to create a rich and vibrant colour palette. Drive is a feast for the eyes and ears and leaves many memorable images. If you want to work with sound, light and image in film then you need to study this closely.
The Performances of Ryan Gosling and Carey Mulligan are also exceptional. The understated, often quiet, approach is used to masterful effect throughout. Gosling often juxtaposes scenes of immense calm that are broken by shocking and loud violence. This all helps to keep the audience hooked and tension high from start to finish. Every scene is handled perfectly so that it never becomes self-indulgent.
Drive as a (Noir) Whydunnit? Movie
Though not set in the classic noir period Drive is every bit the Neo Noir film. Only this time the bright neon only exists to cast the shadowy reflections of corrupt and dangerous character that inhabit the world.
The Driver is a classic broken gumshoe in that he is damaged goods and has the fault of being capable of extreme violence. This is made apparent when our hero changes and takes his ‘Dark Turn’ (after the botched heist), which is one of the key ingredients of any noir. As the Driver loses his cool he abandons his strict set of rules which have seen him through until this point. As the Driver searches for who set him up and why, he gradually ‘Turns over cards’ which will lead him to what he seeks.
Noir films also need a mystery and in this instance the mystery is about why has our hero been setup to take the fall at the robbery?
We also have our femme fatale, though in classic neo noir style she is cleverly subverted and merged with the Noir stock character of the innocent girl. It is in fact the relative innocence of Carey Mulligan’s character that draws our broken hero to her. The merging of the two characters is nicely illustrated in scene where Driver visits her at work and she is wearing a uniform consisting of the white of the innocent girl and the red of the femme fatale.
Opening Image – There are effectively two starts to the film. The first mini prologue section to set the mood and then the after credit sequence. We open on a neon lit LA. Our driver is introduced to us, we know within minutes that he means business.
As the titles roll we see our hero moving with little emotion and entering his apartment. Framed against the shadow of his window is an image of him being caged.
Theme Stated – at Minute 12 we see our Driver doubling for the hero of an action movie. This sets our theme into play. Is the Driver a real hero or a fake one? Is there anything he can’t do?
Catalyst – The first elevator meeting with Carey Mulligan starts our hero (unknowingly) on the road to trouble.
Debate – Is mainly internal throughout the film. However, at minute 16 our Driver and Irene talk. In reply to the question of what the Driver does he reply “I Drive”. Irene responds with “Is that dangerous?” This is setting up our hero as he is in daylight and how he is after dark. This distinction will blur and merge before the end.
Set-Up – Finishes late, but by minute 21 our driver has pulled a job and met all the important characters of the film. Things are now in place for our mystery to start.
Break into Two – We break into the upside down world of Drive in minute 26 as the Driver travels along the storm drain with Irene and her child. They stop at the water, the sun is shining, and it is clear there is a link between the two characters here.
B Story – The love story between the Driver and Irene really kicks in as we see them driving together at night and she holds his hand on the gear stick. Irene has now crossed into his night time world and the boundaries have blurred again.
Fun and Games – The Driver plays with the child and also plays at being in a family unit. We know it can’t last.
Midpoint – Comes at minute 46 and is a massive down as Irene’s husband returns to the scene. Our Driver is back in the dark and he has lost his smile.
Bad Guys Close In – A musical change and the Driver being semi-forced into doing a heist in the middle of the day signal bad things are going to happen. Our driver would normally only do this at night but has been seduced by Irene’s innocence and thus is vulnerable. The husband is killed and things are beginning to go wrong. Our Driver’s once pristine appearance is now blood splattered. The beast is coming out of the cage.
All is Lost – At minute 70 we have the lift scene. The Driver loses control and in an act of shocking violence loses everything he has been fighting for.
Dark Night of the Soul – The girl now lost, the Driver screams at Shannon about what has happened. After a heated exchange the Driver knows the only option left is to eliminate everyone connected with him and Irene.
Break into Three – The elevator doors shut and we are back in the Drivers night time world. He is bloodied but in control again and this will only end one way.
Finale – The bad guys begin to fall one by one. There is no stopping the Driver as he executes anyone who is a threat to himself or Irene.
Final image – Our Driver drives away into the night with ‘A Real Hero Playing’ He has sacrificed everything for the girl.