Drive: directed by Nicolas Winding Refn, written by Hossein Amini
Depending on my inclination I can sometimes turn the most obscure of issues into the foundation for some reviews that I write. Drive reminded me of a passing dilemma I faced last year with The Kids Are All Right - titling. I'm inclined to eschew, altogether, the obvious indication that the title functions as a mere stand in for the job of our unnamed protagonist, but with Amini and Refn’s intent focus on the character – making the film something of a indefinite character study – it would have just been simpler to call the film The Driver. The verb drive is a very active one, more than just the steering of a vehicle it suggests the controlling and directing of anything...or anyone. But, it’s drive in its noun form which intrigues me more, though – “a strong instinctual need or basic need”. Amini’s adaptation is a fundamentally simple one with characters who’s inclinations are only indicated never examined, and it’s that nagging question of the drive behind all their actions – teased at, but almost never fulfilled – which the film seems to depend on.
There’s a song that plays in the first half with a refrain “there’s something inside you, it’s hard to explain”. It’s sort of an indication of how precisely the music is used in the film. It’s both a reference to the film, as much as its protagonist. Everything unfolds, photographed glossily, beautifully and coldly. Even as Refn’s film is essentially a stand-in for its lead character, it’s not a personal experience because the driver isn’t really a personality. And, that’s not an insult. I think that Gosling is much too precise of an actor to portray the character with such stoicism for no reason. And, it returns me to the noun drive – he’s clearly got thoughts wandering in his head, and it’s a shame that Refn or Amini never allows us to. But, even though it looks like a character – and even though I call it that – it’s not really a character study. It’s a heist film for the film snobs. And, I'm a film snob so I say without the least bit of insult meant.
Standard, Irene’s husband who is released from jail about a third into the film, is to be involved in a small time heist which the driver participates in. We gather that he’s taking part because Irene and Benecio’s lives are being threatened, but in keeping with his frostiness he doesn’t show it – we’re left to discern. The heist goes wrong and in an overly precise unfolding of events it turns out that characters we’ve already met were at the root of it. It’s another indication of the over simplicity of the film. For all its ostensible novelty it depends on the most uncomplicated of arcs to its detriment, and to its benefit. The reason the characters come off seeming like archetypes is because the minimalist aims of the film never delves into their drive. Mulligan, for example, is arresting as the quiet Irene and it’s a character that’s difficult to get a proper grip on. Like everyone in the film, she’s carrying severe baggage which is only hinted at.