Monday, December 19, 2011
Los Angeles, the city of dreams, angels and hopes. The place of glitter, sunshine, smiling people, palm trees, swimming pools, glamour and the American dream. This is how we have come to associate the city in our minds. But for the main character of "Drive", Los Angeles is more of place filled with endless highways, pit stops, dark and dirty alleys, neon signs, unfulfilled dreams, strip malls, survival, greed, cold stone buildings, rampant crime and worn-out apartments. Like the character of Meursault in Albert Camus´ masterpiece, "Stranger" (sometimes referred to as "The Outsider"), he appears stoic, indifferent and dissociated from social norms. That is, until he meets his lovely neighbor Irene, whose troublesome circumstances spiral into his life with faithful results.
The very slick and stylistic film by Nicolas Winding Refn has visual flair and a gruesome neo-noir feel to it.
The style borrows from the works of Michael Mann, Quentin Tarantino and Clint Eastwood. Much is not said, the dialogue is stripped down and the visual is emphasized. The music is haunting, and stays with you long after the film is over. The electric soundscape has a hybrid ´70s and ´80s feel to it, and works beautifully with the visual landscape.
The lone main character (played by the magnificent Ryan Gosling) is never properly named. He is referred to as "the kid", "the driver" or "him". He is merely a drop of destiny in the ocean of L.A., while at the same time coveting more. What he does is drive, and very well so. At day he stunt-drives for films while getting paid peanuts. At nights, he works as a getawaycar specialist, assisting in heists. Expressionless and calm, he escapes the police in the darkness of LA like a true master of cars. But he is only there for five minutes. After that, he disappears into the vast crowd of anonymity, much like the generic Chevy Impala´s he uses on his gigs.
The driver is on his way to possibly acquiring a way out of mundane existence with race driving, when a chance encounter with the pretty, but married, neighbour changes everything. Irene (played by Carey Mulligan) is struggling with a small boy, while his husband is an unlucky robber being released from jail. A blackmail threat against the son leaves the husband with no choice but to agree to a final robbery. Out of sympathy for the child, the driver agrees to help, thus breaking his solitude.
Needless to say, the heist goes dreadfully wrong, the mob is involved, and our poor driver has no choice but
to search and kill the involved criminals. Chaos ensues, and the inevitability of the outcome is almost heartbreaking for the viewer. The extremely graphic violence gives us a glimpse to the shadowy circles of hardened criminals, where aggression is a banal tool for control. The ease with which our main character resorts to using violence suggests that there is more to his background that mere getaway-drives. He is indeed a survivor, who feels empathy for the small boy in the face of danger. In the end, he may have sacrificed himself for a family that never was his. The nihilism of the worldview offered to us is claustrophobic.