Film Noir is a genre of “life in the shadows” movies that became popular in America during
the uncertain times of World War II. Westerns have remained a shorthand for the American
psyche with their sullen outsiders with a personal code of honor bucking the system.
Samurai films mirror the lone avenger protagonist, but set against a longing for a lost
society of incorruptible values. Now and again a notable contemporary noir or western or
samurai film emerges with little fanfare amidst all the commercial cacophony of the louder,
bolder, more spectacular action films that rule today’s box office. One such gem of film
blending all three genres flashed out of the shadows briefly in 2011. It’s called “Drive”
and I think it is the greatest artistic achievement of the past year.
The artworks for the two or three “Drive” posters show the eyes of a man looking in the rearview
mirror or a young man’s back clothed in a flashy motorcycle jacket emblazoned with a scorpion
design. Got it. I looked forward to a cool stunts-filled chase movie. What I got was something
far more. Because sometimes the movie’ poster is more than a tease – sometimes the poster indicates
a portal to be passed through – in this case into the darkness and pain that drives one man’s bleak
existence, and into the deep recesses of memory and loss and flickering hope that serve as the “drive”
to all our lives. The word drive on the poster had a different definition than the one you presumed
as you walked into the theatre. “Drive” captures the desire to find life worth living in even the
direst circumstances like no other recent film I can quickly bring to mind.
While “Drive” might be likened to recent paeans to nihilistic violence as a response to our
stagnating, stupefying times – films such as “American Psycho” and “Fight Club” – it has a real
core humanity and heart missing from those stylishly cynical films. Where those films seek to
shock, “Drive” and the Driver himself simply seeks to survive, to find a way out, to live. There
is the already “instant classic” “scene in the elevator” that perfectly arcs from the fatalistic
melancholy of a doomed romantic love to the most brutal violence so brilliantly fitting that you
will never get it out of your head. It is the pivot encapsulating the soul of the film that is
both so beautiful and yet so horrible that it blows away any single scene of any other movie shot
recently. Talk about your “zero to sixty in under four seconds”...
The Driver by ~Bilou020285
Being perhaps emblematic of a force of nature just trying to
keep pushing forward. The character, played with effective understatement by Ryan Gosling, evokes
the silent hero who does not volunteer; his valor is in “sticking” despite danger, or in returning
to protect innocents or comrades in harm’s way – very much like Clint Eastwood’s “Man with No Name”
in Sergio Leone’s spaghetti westerns or Han Solo in “Star Wars”. There is a moral code underneath
all of that pain driven by a reverence in protection of the innocent rather than the usual imperative
of self interest.
Director Nicolas Refn frames the scenes of the story in a detached “observational” manner that makes them even
more starkly effective than any standard gritty “shaky-cam” treatment might achieve. His forensic POV calls
to mind such Stanley Kubrick classics as “The Killing” and “A Clockwork Orange”. The ability to adapt stories
from exceptional original source material, like James Sallis’s novella, is an art seemingly becoming lost with
so many of today's high-power directors shooting their own original screenplays. It as much a talent to be able to
“illuminate” an already great work of art to produce an equally or possibly even greater work of art as it is
to be an auteur of a singular vision. I hope Refn goes on to be our next Kubrick and decides to frame the
greatest novels of our time. Judging by this, he has a real shot.
The other unexpectedly magical ingredient running through this is film is the Bernie Rose character played by
Albert Brooks. He is brilliantly portrayed as a monster who’s self awareness of the banality of his day to day
necessary cruelties has long since numbed him to taking any pleasure in being a gangster. He expresses not so much
as even a glimmer of self-satisfaction in the expert efficiency with which he eliminates human obstacles. The
scene in which he suddenly slices open the arm of a long time associate, then immediately, gently reassures his
victim that the worst is over and there would be no more pain in his imminent death aptly illustrates the boredom
of a killer long overdue for retirement.
Actor Gosling, screenwriter Hossein Amini and director Refn have managed to inject passion into a brilliant yet purposely
airless novella in such a way as to create a film burning from end to end with a compressed fire to light the darkest noir.
It is remarkable on every level. It will be initially lost amidst the crush of “bigger” entries. It is also destined to be one
of those movies that is “rediscovered” again and again, generation after generation, for years to come.
This article is also a call to the Film community here on dA to ask for your thoughts, input, and opinions on what types
of subject matter and articles you would like to see me focus on this year. I am going to begin with a feature dedicated
to Movie poster artists here on dA as a first step but I would love to hear feedback on where to take it from there. Are
there any deviants in the Film community that you feel I must interview as soon as possible?
- Which do you think is more important: the technical action sequences and general art design of a film? the quality of the writing, direction and acting? or the vision of “human truth” interwoven with the plot and action?
- Do you like it when “action films” turn out to have a powerful dramatic “message” as well? Or do you think this is an unnecessary distraction from what should be sheer “meaningless” entertainment?
- What are the “action” films you watched just to have some fun – but were unexpectedly greatly moved by, emotionally or intellectually?
- What were your favorite films of 2011?