“I wanted to make Pretty in Pink with a head-smashing”: Drive

09/14/2011 4:00 AM |


Directed by Nicolas Winding Refn

Brooding, sophisticated and drop-dead gorgeous, Drive is lowbrow trash rewrit as highbrow treasure. Its clumsy coincidences, unnaturalistic expository dialogue and pulpy themes—vengeance, sacrifice, redemption—are brought to life with elegance and gravitas: it’s the action movie treated like art, the cinematic equivalent of literary genre fiction. Ryan Gosling plays an unnamed mechanic with sidelines as both stuntman and getaway Driver. He’s a stoic loner steeped in Jean-Pierre Melvillean melancholy, possessed of preternatural driving abilities, capable of both honorable service and shocking barbarity.

At the same time, director Nicolas Winding Refn has said, “I’ve always wanted to remake [Sixteen Candles] in one way or another and, in a very unlikely way, I’ve done that in Drive.” The movie switches between two tones: the world-weary and the romantic. Refn’s glittering cityscapes, the electro-pop soundtrack, the lavender lettering and cursive font—they suggest something John Hughes-y. But Cliff Martinez’s dark synth-score (and the appearance of a masked vigilante) evoke the gory exploits of John Carpenter. Aligning with his director, Gosling told New York magazine, “I wanted to make Pretty in Pink with a head-smashing.”

Such stylistic flourishes sound flamboyant, but Refn can be as reticent with images as his protagonist is with words. Gosling plays dialogue scenes without opening his mouth, expressing more through the crack of tensed knuckles or the groan of flexed leather gloves. Refn is similarly sparing with what he puts onscreen. He proves a master of minimalism, as in the unbearably tense opening chase, which features not speeding cars but their opposites: a getaway car with two crooks fresh off a heist lurking in shadows, lurching behind a searchlighted police cruiser; no words spoken beyond the streaming narration of a police scanner; a steady beat pulsing in the background. Well deserving of its Best Director win at Cannes, Drive is the purest cinema you’ll see all year.

Opens September 16

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