Up until a couple of weeks ago I had never seen a Nicolas Winding Refn movie, and now I’ve seen both Bronson and Drive I can conclude at least one thing – he likes his anti-heroes.
While in Bronson he dealt with a charismatic, real-life nutcase and made him into something of a vaudeville rogue for the purposes of the film, in Drive he presents us with a man who is very much a blank canvas, The Driver.
I have to admit I came to Drive with a certain level of expectation following the good words I had heard about it, fairly consistently, since its release in 2011, but beyond that I didn’t really know what to expect and, to be honest, I came away from it almost wholly disappointed.
During this pre-credits scene we meet the owner of the garage he works at, who provides his ‘work’ cars, and the basics of the plot and their characters are set up – unfortunately that’s pretty much where their character development ends.
While the story, a fairly straight forward modern gangster tale akin to the likes of Reservoir Dogs is decent if nothing special, my major issue with the film was that none of the characters were developed enough to mean anything to me so, rather than really rooting for Gosling’s Driver (or anyone else), I honestly didn’t care for them at all.
This lack of empathy rendered anything else that happened near pointless – in one scene The Driver gets stuck in a room with armed assailants on either side and, while I assumed he would escape as I knew there was still at least 40 minutes of movie left, I honestly didn’t care if he escaped intact or not.
The nearest I came to caring for any characters was Carey Mulligan’s Irene but even then, for the most part, she merely felt like a cypher or plot device to move the film along, as much as it ever does.
The movie itself is something of a slow burn as the first hour and a bit seems to be setting up the characters and locale, while really telling us nothing of either, before kicking into an ultra-violent gear that again feels empty.
While the plot and characterisation left me largely cold Drive’s one redeeming factor was its stylishness as we get a veritable portrait of the LA underground painted in lurid neon and electronic music that mirrors its characters in its coldness, but here cold seems suitable instead of just making me not care about the movie.
Maybe Drive was trying to make a point about the distance that many feel from each other in modern life, supposedly especially those who live in cities like LA, but, if this was the films purpose, it failed in transmitting this by simply being so cold and distant and full of cyphers rather than characters it was impossible to connect.
In the end it left me thinking that if this had been a flippant action b-movie it would have been fine, slightly over gory, fun, if nothing special, but instead it feels like it wants to be something ‘higher’ (for want of a better word) but fails to make any real impact beyond looking very nice – in this regard it reminded me very much of Michael Mann’s Manhunter.