November 18, 2012 at 7:00 pm | Posted in 2011 | Leave a comment

◊ ◊ ◊ ◊ ½

“Drive” is a visual feast and a masterpiece of restrained film making (restrained, you ask incredulous.  But we’ll get to that).  Ryan Gosling plays the unnamed protagonist: a good guy with a bad side, who is forced to get violent to save an innocent woman and her child.  How cliché is that?  This is the stuff that truly terrible movies are made out of.  Yet, Nicolas Winding Refn (the Danish director who is virtually unknown in the U.S.) manages to build something close to brilliance.  The strength of the film lies in its use of negative space; it is the unseen and the unsaid that matter most.  Refn uses his sparse dialogue beautifully, allowing huge gaps before responses are given (if given at all).  What is said is most often unsubstantial; it is what is not said in return or what happens before the response that is packed with emotion and tension.  Often the speaker is off screen and we’re forced to focus on the listener.  Everything you need to know is in that face; so little needs to be said verbally because so much is said physically.  And Refn likes to play with those faces and how they speak to the audience.  Joy is expressed with sad eyes.  Sadness is expressed with laughter.  And one of the most intensely dangerous scenes of the film is created by a beautifully romantic kiss.  For most of the movie, the violence all occurs off screen, just beyond where you can see it.  This is its own sort of negative space that makes the final presence of violence (when it literally explodes on screen) that much more shocking.  I was also reminded of Michael Mann’s “Collateral” throughout this film.  The use of lighting, particularly in the night scenes, was very much like Mann, full of mood and texture.  However, unlike Mann’s bluer, cooler palette, Refn painted most of these scenes in shades of red.   In fact, red is a common color, showing up in the background throughout the film and covering the foreground in some later scenes.   However, as shockingly graphic as a couple of scenes are, Refn resists the urge to sink into parody; he is not Tarantino.  The two main acts of vengeance return to his earlier formula and occur just off screen or beyond our view, forcing us outside of these strangely intimate moments.  By doing this, he upends the Hollywood tradition and refuses the audience the final blood letting (the revenge fantasy) it craves.  The subtlety of this and decisions made throughout the film are what lift “Drive” beyond the typical action movie drivel.


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