Greetings Loved Ones! Liu Is The Name, And Views Are My Game.
For years, whenever I heard the name Drive, all I could ask myself was “why?” Why did Nicolas Winding Refn, a director infamous for making morbid movies with ultra-masculine main characters, choose a pretty boy pansy like Ryan Gosling to be his lead? Why was Drive, an incredibly formulaic neo-noir crime thriller, met with such critical acclaim and box office boom? And finally, why was this, out of all of Winding Refn’s projects, the most successful? I mean, seriously, what’s so special about it? What aspect of this film is so daring, so visionary, as to catapult its director from an obscure art-house risk-taker to a Hollywood A-lister? Why didn’t any of Refn’s earlier successes, like Bronson or The Pusher Trilogy, hit it big as well? For that matter, why didn’t Valhalla Rising? I mean, after all, it’s an incredibly well-crafted surrealist nightmare of a movie. Shouldn’t something like that also garner critical recognition?
Well, having finally taken the time to sit down and watch Drive, all I can say in response to those earlier questions is, “because that’s what makes it awesome.” Yes, Drive‘s story is incredibly formulaic, yes, Ryan Gosling is not your typical tough guy, and yes, there are other Winding Refn films that are both more original and more thought provoking. Even so, Drive is still a well-paced, well-acted, visually-striking work of art that’s definitely worth taking the time to watch. A solid 8.5 in my opinion. And you know what’s really weird? Many of the movie’s faults actually worked to its advantage. How? Well, perhaps I should take a step bak and explain a few things.
You see, as hard as each individual might try to keep his or herself free from the chains of classification, everyone inevitably has a niche, something that they’re both good at and interested in. This truth holds particular weight among artists, especially filmmakers. As hard as they might try to keep us, the audience, guessing,we can’t help but notice certain motifs in their work. People who go into an M Night Shyamalan movie, for instance, do so with the expectation of seeing a story with a weird twist ending. Similarly, audiences have since come to accept the lurid bloodshed, 70s style soundtracks, and snappy dialogue of Tarantino pictures to be trademarks. Nicolas Winding Refn is likewise no exception to the directorial rule of niches. Several of his films share a number of strikingly similar characteristics, including a dark, brooding tone, a conspicuous lack of dialogue, a saturated color scheme and, of course, a gratuitous amount of graphic violence. Now, when I say “graphic violence,” I’m not referring to over-the-top, Quentin Tarantino-type cartoonish violence, or even the semi-pornographic stuff you might expect to see in an Eli Roth or Wes Craven film. I’m talking Mads Mikkelsen disemboweling a guy with his bare hands violence. I’m talking Ryan Gosling crushing a dude’s face with the heel of his shoe violence. I’m talking Vithaya Pansringarm impaling a person to a chair with a pair of chopsticks and then gouging out his eyes violence. And yet, despite all the carnage that unfolds before the camera in his films, Nicolas Winding Refn’s pictures are anything but torture porn. Many of his projects possess extremely profound moral or philosophical messages, usually having to do with religion or sexuality, and many more have strong mythological undertones. The characters in his films are less believable, flesh and blood individuals as they are archetypes or embodiments of various concepts he’s trying to get across. Tom Hardy’s character in Bronson, for instance, is a representation of the raw, animalistic impulses and desires that dwell within each of us, while Vithaya Pansringarm in Only God Forgives symbolizes the blind, merciless and unstoppable force of justice.
But what, you might be wondering, does all this talk of niches have to do with the success of Drive? Well, I’ll tell you. Drive is one of the only films which Nicolas Winding Refn chose to do in a manner that was unfamiliar to him. Instead of writing and directing an original screenplay, he chose to adapt a pre-existing novel. Instead of producing a picture with little to no dialogue, he made a movie with lots and lots of it. Instead of casting little known actors whom he felt could convey the themes he wanted, he decided to go with mainstream Hollywood stars. And finally, rather than make an original, thought-provoking movie with an underlying message, he decided to give us a piece of predictable, processed entertainment. Seriously! The whole story boils down to, stuntman-slash-getaway driver tries to help single mother, hyjinx ensues. It’s your basic crook finds redemption by helping others plot that we’ve seen so many times before–with Han Solo in Star Wars, Danny Archer in Blood Diamond, Wikus van der Merwe in District 9–that I’m kind of surprised people still want to watch it. But, back to my original point, when Nicolas Winding Refn decided to direct Drive, he also decided not to make a Nicolas Winding Refn picture. Oh sure, the movie still had some of his fingerprints on it–the main character is highly stoic, there’s a lot of onscreen violence, and most of the images have a surreal color scheme–but the heart of his work wasn’t present. As a result, the movie was more approachable to audiences and more comprehensible to critics. Basically, Drive was successful because it had a recognizable face in the lead, because it was incredibly easy to follow, and because there was nothing profound about it whatsoever, proving, once again, my theory that the principle that governs all American cinema is pulp crap = pure cash.
That’s what I think, anyway. If you disagree, don’t hesitate to say so. Alright, goodbye everybody. I hope you all enjoyed your spring breaks. This is Nathan Liu, signing off.