I have a confession to make: Sometimes, I don’t go into a film with an open mind. I know, I know, it’s like I’m breaking a code of ethics for film buffs or film critics. This happens for a couple of reasons: a) I don’t get out that often, so I have to be deliberately selective of what I see (I only seen 12-20 theatrical releases a year), and I often choose what I think I’m going to enjoy the most, or at least what I’m going to get the most out of; or b) I have had strong reactions from the director’s previous work (or screenwriter or actor, but usually director). Case in point, I went in to The Great Gatsby with as closed of a mind as you could probably get. I was going to “hate watch” it, essentially. I was more than ready to detest whatever Lurhmann had done to bastardize F. Scott Fitzgerald’s text. Again, this sound completely horrible, but, so be it. I was, however, in for a couple surprises. But, I guess the most surprising thing about Gatsby is… I didn’t hate it.
I hate the director. I have a personal vendetta against Baz Lurhmann after William Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet and Moulin Rouge! I have a physical aversion to his “bigger is bigger is better”, “style is absolutely everything” mentality. I have tried to watch the two aforementioned films numerous times and I have only gotten through them twice each (total viewing counts: RJ: 4; MR: 6). With the exception of his fabulous debut, Strictly Ballroom (which had all the right kinds of theatricality); I have found Lurhmann to be the “Michael Bay of pseudo-postmodern mainstream filmmaking”. His ideas look good on paper, sometimes even swell; the re-appropriation of a tragic love story set in Miami gangland while retaining the original text? Cool! The retelling of La Boehme as a musical utilizing contemporary pop music to weave the story? Superb! But, for me, it all crumbles away in execution, most notably in editing and cinematography. Lurhmann’s flare for theatricality manifests itself through his editing and camerawork, where he is more reliant on a hyperkinetic, MTV borne method of rapid cuts, oversaturated colors, and swirling camera movements. I probably would not have as much of an issue of these things actually looked visually palatable, but Lurhmann often goes so overboard that I become physically nauseous watching it. Not only does this style of filmmaking get in the way of storytelling and distract from what is occurring with the characters, it is ostentatious and I cannot tolerate it. In essence, Lurhmann does not know when to say stop. It, thus, makes it seem as if he does not actually understand visual language or the language of film. It seems random and aberrant. But, finally, in several moments of his newest film, his take on Fitzgerald’s high school consecrated novel, he steps back and takes a breath to look at some of the grandeur of what he can produce.
As I am sure that everyone reading this has read The Great Gatsby as some point in their lives, I shall not bother giving any type of summary beyond this: Fitzgerald’s book, through its ambrosial prose and decedent setting, desired to critique the deliciously sinful lifestyle so many people lived and/or chased during the 1920s and did so by creating two of the most fascinating characters in American literature: Nick Caraway and Jay Gatsby.
Now, it did not surprise me much at all that the first third of the film was wildly visual and self-satisfied in its anachronistic use of music. So, during that first third, I kind of just rolled my eyes during some moments, but I realized, halfway through, that what I was seeing was not making me ill. This, I think, is growth! Nevertheless, Lurhmann’s attempts at duding up his film with CGI art deco, augmented building and settings, rapid editing, dizzying camera work, and his usual trademarks did everything I expected them to: look flashy and distract from what was going on in the film. When Gatsby takes Nick out for the first time in his car, so many cuts were made that one has to continually mentally re-orientate themselves as to where the car is, thus almost ignoring what Gatsby was saying in his rather expository monologue. Isn’t the point, though, to be as entranced by what Gatsby is saying as Nick is?
Speaking of whom, Lurhmann employs a totally unnecessary framing device for the film’s narrative. We find Nick, morose and austere and a resident at an asylum due to severe anxiety and alcoholism, this after the events of the book/film. His psychiatrist tells him to write about his experiences, since he can’t “talk” about them. And so he does. I cannot recall who said it, but a friend of mine on Twitter said that voice over narration should not merely describe what a character does or has done; good narration gives insight into what just happened. On paper, Nick’s first person narration makes sense; on film, it does not. Even separating one’s self from the book, the narration suffers from textbook “telling, not showing”. Much of the nuance of the story and characters is reduced to Tobey Maguire’s half-baked voice over (he really does sound stoned and/or falling asleep). In this way, it feels, occasionally, like a visual audiobook and not a film. Many things are described in such detail that it robs the opportunity for the actors to embody an element of their character, or for the camera to subtly hint at something visually and dramatically. You here Nick describe everything that is going on, constantly interrupting the story, causing several scenes to become long, drawn out affairs, almost going against what Lurhmann usually does. As workable and exceptional as Gatsby’s third act is, it becomes almost excruciatingly “accurate” with the novel because so much of it has this narration. At least the cast is “good”.
I put that in quotation marks for a reason. I commend the entire cast, with the exception of Tobey Maguire, for some spectacular performances. While not as deeply vapid as I expected, Carey Mulligan’s turn as Daisy Buchanan was lovely, her voice emulating money just as Fitzgerald had written. Tom Edgarton epitomizes the hulking, aggressive nature of Daisy’s husband, Tom, in an almost frightening way. Relative newcomer Elizabeth Debicki is absolutely divine as Jordan Baker, asserting her presence on the screen with a dose of gossip and a trace of “masculine” strength. Tobey Maguire is, on the other hand, pretty boring and banal, despite his role as Nick Caraway being crucial to the story. Only in a few moments of the film do you get to see the wide-eyed wonderment, naiveté, and childishness of Nick. Too often, though, Maguire sounds bored and kind of ghostly. You could make the argument, though, that because everyone basically overacts their way through the film that they are epitomizing the façade of wealth and class Fitzgerald so strongly tackles and criticizes in the book, but that is one of the primary issues. Because every actor seems to fit the descriptions given by Fitzgerald in the book to a T at times, it feels much like a one note performance through much of it. It seems that they are playing more of an outline of the character than actually making the character their own, bringing it to life, and truly making it memorable. Mulligan can capture that subtle quality about Daisy seemingly with ease, but only momentarily does her heartbreak, vapidity, and vulnerability seem more like the words on the page just transliterated onto the screen. Edgarton may look, talk, and walk like Tom, but rarely does he transcend that character. Nearly everyone seems trapped in a mentality dictated by a high school class where everyone lists out what qualities the characters have, as opposed to glancing at those qualities and then going with their gut feeling to make it something to be remembered.
Nearly everyone except Leonardo DiCaprio. His performance as Jay Gatsby may not be perfect, but only in him do you get both an achingly real quality to what Fitzgerald was writing about as well as a performance that goes past that and dives into Gatsby’s emotions as DiCaprio may see it. His desperate, play acted persona seems believable enough to accept him in the role, but fake enough to know there is something else lurking underneath the tailored suits and polished shoes. The nervousness, anxiety, desperation, ostentation, and corruption (emotion and moral) all ooze from DiCaprio’s pores performance effortlessly. This might be, dare I say it, one of DiCaprio’s most memorable roles. *runs and hides*
With DiCaprio’s success as Gatsby, the film’s second strongest aspect is its second a third act. Perhaps exhausted from the “whirlwind” he took us on so early in the film, Lurhmann actually takes a step back, giving both he and his audience a rest and allowing the film to become almost traditional and by the book. The ostentation of the director never fully disappears, but not only does it become more tolerable, it becomes somewhat pleasant. The distraction of the film’s visual aesthetic takes a back seat to characters doing things that could be filled with meaning; to settings that, while entirely artificial looking, at least make sense; and to a story being told. Not necessarily well, as Lurhmann continues to have very little idea about cinematic language, but “okay”. He does an okay job, when the day is done. There are a couple of truly spectacular scenes in the film, notably when Jordon, Nick, Gatsby, Daisy, and Tom are in the city in a hotel room. In this scene, you can see that Lurhmann may have finally matured in his ability to frame things as a benefit to the story, not just to look good or impressive. The tensions steadily rise, and the room is given dual jobs: claustrophobic prison for Tom and Gatsby, and the rest of the group, and large, kind of expansive arena for the former pair. Close ups detail the rage and the duel like nature of the scene; long shots show it as an ornate cell, reminiscent of Bunuel’s The Exterminating Angel. Edgarton and DiCaprio bring their A-game to the scene, and in a moment of pure ferocity out of Gatsby, one is reminded of the pained, pathetic creature lurking somewhere in Gatsby’s soul. If this is what Lurhmann can do, a scene where what the actors are doing is more important than how quickly it can change from shot to shot, then I might have to rescind my vendetta.
The music, though, that is something else. I get why Jay Z is produced the soundtrack. Because he can be called “Jay Gat-Z”! Get it? Okay, I’m sorry. However, Jay Z’s personal life only reflects the most surface value of the text and of Gatsby’s aspirations and chase for the American Dream. He’s a success story, and someone whose big name and often good sonic choices might be eye catching for people interested in the film. It comes as absolutely no surprise that the most anachronistic thing in the film is the music. There are other things, sure, like the digitally rendered locale of the entire film (Film critic David Ehrlich commented that the film is less of “a period piece. more like a semi-colon… piece.”), but the music is the most buzzed about, I would surmise. Because, in what world does one marry Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” and a track by will.i.am in the same scene? Apparently, in Lurhmann’s world. That said, a good portion of the music used in the film makes sense within its context. Party scenes feature tracks like “Bang Bang” by the aforementioned Black Eyed Peas alumnus, which samples the Charleston and “A Little Party Never Killed Nobody” by Fergie, which alludes to a line in the book, and these scenes work. They make sense, and they are occasionally even fun and worthy of a foot tap. Emeli Sande’s take on Beyoncé’s “Crazy in Love” is rearranged as a big band, cabaret track and used just prior to Gatsby’s first meeting with Daisy, and it’s the haunting sound of Sande’s voice coupled with the whining, futile brass that gives that brief scene its power. Even Lana del Ray’s “young and Beautiful”, which becomes a musical motif throughout the film, echoes hauntingly through Gatsby’s vast mansion and smartly describes the hollowness of Gatsby’s lust for Daisy. But it’s when other tracks are used, like Jay Z’s own “100$ Bill” and even the revamped “Back to Black” performed by Andre 3000 and Beyoncé, that the anachronism doesn’t actually make sense in the film and feels more like a big name throw in. These tracks that don’t quite fit in the movie sound like they belong on a disc of music “inspired by the film”, instead of being used in it. It creates unevenness in the film’s tone, which is ironic considering the director. The biggest disappointment, in my personal opinion, is the use of Gershwin’s opus “Rhapsody in Blue”. While it is always nice to hear it used at all, its use becomes somewhat redundant in the film’s two scenes where you hear it: first, when we finally meet Gatsby, and second, when the gang, so to speak, travel across the Queensboro Bridge. One use of the song would make sense; two makes it redundant, especially because the sections that are used as so close together in regards to the chronology of the track itself. That said, the music as a whole did not bother me. Its attempt to make the issues discussed in the film relevant to a contemporary audience in a very “it’s what’s happening today” is not exactly successful, but at least it doesn’t sound bad.
One of the most surprising disappointments to me, though, was the 3D. For all the justification and defending Lurhmann did for his choice to make the film in 3D, it was not particularly spectacular. Although the film’s titles begin to create a sense of depth by gradually becoming a long, narrow hallway of art deco-like graphic design, much of the 3D was, I suppose, underutilized. There wasn’t so much as “sense of depth and place” as there was the understanding that an actor was either standing in front of another actor or a piece of furniture, or that an actor was standing in front of a blue screen, and, in most cases, both. Besides darkening the hues of Simon Duggan’s cinematography, never does one get the feel of just how excessive this piece of the Roaring Twenties was, or how enormous Gatsby’s mansion is. The wide open spaces don’t make you feel like you’re there, just like you feel like you should be feeling like you’re there. While their intentions are “noble”, Werner Herzog and his Cave of Forgotten Dreams or Wim Wenders and his Pina, Lurhmann might not know how to fine tune the technology enough to make it feel worth sitting through. Cave of Forgotten Dreams shows the extensive space of cave paintings, while Wim Wenders shows both the far-reaching depth into a stage as well as the illusive details of the dancers’ bodies and how they move. Gatsby sometimes uses “fun” effects (ashes, writing on the screen, the Green Light, etc.), but none of it justifies the premium ticket price.
The parties look good. But where the film fails in the biggest sense is there. Lurhmann may show just how excessive and decadent that period may have been, but little attempt is made to make as incisive a criticism of such an era as was made in the book. It all looks nice, but it’s all vapid. The justification for “what did expect other than ‘style over substance’?” is no excuse for the film to actually be that way. It attempts to show that falseness of class and sophistication, but does little to go beyond just showing it. It doesn’t peel away at those layers to reveal the true corruption of the ‘20s.
So, I didn’t hate The Great Gatsby. I didn’t even revile it. I did not feel the sense to cry at how awful it was. It wasn’t a hot mess or a train wreck, but it was still mediocre. Despite being very faithful to the book it’s based upon, The Great Gatsby may represent, as some have said, the film that fails to capture the true essence of the book. I probably would have preferred a less accurate version of the film had it been able to convey the nastiness of the novel better. One wonders to what extent Lurhmann grasped the book’s themes enough to adapt them into a satisfying film. The film’s anachronism didn’t bother me, and even the later parts of the film had me genuinely enthralled, but too much of the film was uneven. What worked, worked well, and what didn’t work really didn’t work. The most captivating aspect was DiCaprio’s performance, but beyond that, we may have to continue beat on against the current, hoping for someone to get Gatsby definitely right for once.
Different kinds of addiction have been portrayed numerous times on screen, from heroine to cocaine, from meth to even the addiction to one’s ego. But artist turned director Steve McQueen’s Shame marks the first time that sex addiction has been handled on so hauntingly and superbly on the screen. Michael Fassbender’s sympathetic Brandon is more the ghost of a human, just as the film is more a ghost of an actual story, rather than something as fulfilling as it wishes to be.
Artist turned director Steve McQueen made his first mark on art cinema with 2008’s Hunger, a semi-biopic starring Michael Fassbender depicting Billy Sands, the IRA, and the ensuing hunger strike that Sands would put himself to. The film was an equally cold exploration of the damage and harm that, in a masochistic sense, a person could subject themselves to and how that affected the people around them. Shame follows the same kind of thematic link, with Fassbender’s Brandon a man whose sexual appetites cannot be satisfied. Both are unflinching looks at the subject matter at hand. But McQueen’s precise directing and unsympathetic look at the character separate and distance the audience form making a true emotional connection with Brandon. Not because his problem is one that few audience member will identify with, but because McQueen, by himself, gives the audience little reason to sympathize with him in the first place.
It is no doubt, however, that it is Michael Fassbender who makes Brandon as sympathetic as he can be. Brandon is a man to be pitied, but through the frigid and naked lens that McQueen shoots with, it is Fassbender’s job to make sure that the film is not so cold that it becomes unbearable or repellent. Fassbender imbues his character with the nuance it needs to make the story believable, but even then, it remains more of a skeletal outline of a story than a true one. Nevertheless, the pained looks, the melancholy, and helplessness of such a deviant make what emotion the film does have palpable. Shame, more than Hunger, gives Fassbender the opportunity to play a man who must present himself as the stereotypical metropolitan yuppie who must hide under that successful façade and shelter the deviant and insidious sex addict underneath. Brandon is constantly having sex or masturbating or watching porn. He is insatiable.
As powerful as Fassbender’s performance is, it is not enough to carry the film on its own. Enter Carey Mulligan’s obnoxious Sissy, Brandon’s equally damaged younger sister. Mulligan plays the annoying well enough, and her rendition of “New York, New York” is absolutely heartbreaking. It is what her character reveals in Brandon that makes the film more human that it would have been originally. We are presented with two people who are escaping their pasts, two people whose early life was so damaged that both Brandon and Sissy find ways of manifesting their pain through questionable acts. Sissy can barely hold a relationship together and then starts sleeping with Brandon’s boss; Brandon is addicted to sex. AT every moment of the film, one of the two is self-sabotaging in one way or another, unable to truly find any solace or comfort in anything (or anyone) they do.
Both Brandon and Sissy are unable to escape the demons that are incessantly pursuing them, and they both reach low points that inevitably destroy the other. The relationship between Fassbender and Mulligan is completely believable, and the pain they cause one another is just as convincing. When Brandon runs, he is not only running away from the moans of pleasure of his sister with his boss, he is running away from her completely, as she is a reminder of the past he is trying to avoid and destroy. He may not destroy his past, but he destroys himself, with the drama aided by a chilling classical score by Harry Escot.
It is here where we run into the problem. As chilling and hauntingly beautiful as the film can be, it is just… cold. I have used that adjective several times throughout this review, but there does not seem to be a better way to describe the distance that McQueen creates between the film and its audience, between Brandon and the viewer, and between the damaged sibling relationship and, again, the viewer. Thus, were it not for Fassbender’s excruciatingly powerful performance, the film would be so unbearably sterile that one could barely get through it. The exploration into the human urges and sexual appetites of one man suffering from a debilitating addiction is fine, but the storyline is thin and, at the end, one asks themselves, “Well, that was great, but… what was the point?” For a director whose first project was the big, sinister Hunger, a film that imbued every cold image with some meaning and solace, often rooted in the political activism that Billy Sands was involved in or some religious imagery, Shame, in comparison, seems like it wants to do the same thing, but lack the material to articulate that kind of meaning. It hardly seems the kind of film to speak about all men and women who are sexually addicted, for such a statement in this kind of film would be rather grandiose and pretentious. One often runs into that kind of problem when trying to define or portray a group of people. However, it is equally troubling when you take the film as face value, where you only have Brandon and Sissy and their demons. It lacks the depth that one would expect from this kind of controversial art house film.
Regardless of this, Steve McQueen’s film is immaculate in the technical sense. Even with Brandon’s downfall, every frame perfectly epitomizes that cold, sterile feeling of the film. Brandon’s apartment is surprisingly tidy, its monochromatic textures revealing nary a detail about the man. There is a sense of minimalism to the production, where the color scheme is ice blue at times, and every building that Brandon inhabits or enters is decorated in a scant sense. Only the streets reveal the dirt underneath Brandon’s fingers, as well as the subway. The cinematography is impressive, and the editing style occasionally tiptoes around flashbacks and stream of consciousness. The explicit content of the film is really hardly anything worse one would see on any HBO show, but, it is no secret that the MPAA is an arbitrary system that often has bias against sexuality anyways.
Steve McQueen’s Shame artfully shows the damage that a sexual addict inflicts upon himself and the manifestation of personal demons through the addiction. Michael Fassbender gives a stunning performance, one that deserved more recognition by a certain organization. And while McQueen accomplishes creating a chilling and haunting film, he fails on a human level, never letting his audience really connect with Brandon. The film’s coldness distances the audience, and you after the film, you get the sense that there was something else there, but you don’t know, and are left contemplating the point of the whole thing. Just like the sexual addict in the film, in the end, you’re left a little unsatisfied and wanting a whole lot more.
Carey Mulligan’s heartbreaking performance of “New York, New York”
I do not drive, personally, so generally speaking I can’t speak from experience about the thrill of driving a car in any situation whatsoever. But if driving is anything like the thrill of Nicolas Winding Refn’s newest film, maybe I should stop procrastinating on getting my license. Winding Refn’s near masterpiece of a film, Drive, is a sucker punch to the gut, something that can be as subtle as, to use driving analogies, strolling down a street at midnight and something as thrilling as getting into a car chase.
Winding Refn hones in his mastery of the medium in this film, which was pretty up to scratch anyways, as evidenced in his previous works like Valhalla Rising and Bronson. Here, the director and the star become one, in a way. Ryan Gosling’s stunt driver/getaway driver is a silent enigma, his introversion and solitude reminiscent of Camus’ Meursault and Melville’s Le Samourai. The director’s piece is just as silent as his driver, using long tracking shots, slow pans, and very little dialogue. The script, by Oscar-nominated screenwriter, Hossein Amini (The Wings of the Dove) changes the original novel’s format, written by James Sallis, making it into a more linear story line with a more coherent plot. As opposed to a standard and conventional driving thriller, it becomes a character study, almost a silent psychoanalysis of its protagonist. Heady though it sounds, that fact does not affect the thrill of watching the film.
What is it about this film that makes it so spellbinding? I am honestly not quite sure. The mood of the film is spelled out in its music, much of the time, using neo-1980’s sounding tracks that are, in a way, characters themselves. The music, though, helps underline the character of the Driver, someone so contemplative and one whose expressions could be used to fill a book that the character remains complex and not completely readable. A film that transcends every genre you could try to pigeonhole it in (neo-noir, crime, action, thriller, etc.); the music acts somewhat as a narrator. Illustrating the complexity of Gosling’s Driver with No Name, the music’s tone shifts appropriately to whatever the mood is in the current scene, reflecting the feeling of Gosling’s emotions. It makes complete sense that the music would play an integral part into the construction of Winding Refn’s film. What else do you do when you’re in the car, especially as a passenger? You stare out the window, contemplating the meaning of life and you listen to music. The music shifts from diegetic to non-diegetic, where sometimes the Driver is aware of the music and others when only we, the audience can hear it. It may be only conjecture, but if the music can be accepted as both an underlining of who the Driver is as a character as well as a narrator, the music can not only be seen as soundtrack to the film but also to the Driver’s life. It is almost as if the Driver is perfectly conscious of the music playing in his head, the mental playlist he has created that describes who he is. Regardless of what it is, the use of songs like “Nightcall” and “A Real Hero” accentuate the gritty mood for this masterpiece.
Every emotion is discernible on Ryan Gosling’s face and, while that may be true, it doesn’t make him easier to read. It does, however, make his performance that much more interesting and powerful. He is a mystery, one whose past is unknown to anyone in the film, even to the two closest people to him in the film, Bryan Cranston as Shannon, the boss of an auto-repair shop, and Carey Mulligan, the woman whom he falls for and whose husband he attempts to help so that she and her family are safe from the men after her husband, Standard Gabriel (Oscar Isaac). Perhaps this is a defense mechanism, but nevertheless, the Enigmatic Driver never really reveals himself to anyone. Gosling’s portrayal of such a stunning character, a silent one who is mostly influenced and moved by the sheer atmosphere, is incredible. Well known for his romantic leading roles in stuff like The Notebook and Crazy, Stupid Love, Gosling feels much more at home here in a hybrid crime drama-neo noir. He is able to delve into character and become the Driver, an important aspect of the film. Without him, the film would probably fall to pieces. Because the film is so contemplative and devoid of dialogue, it would take complete dedication for an actor to really jump into the role. What Gosling does with the character is make it his own, creating a perfect amalgam of the existential hero from so many great films. It is not a derivative character, but one molded and shaped at Gosling’s (and Refn’s) will. He is one of the most elusive and intriguing characters in recent memory.
The supporting cast is great, filled with interesting and colorful characters. Mulligan plays Irene with a sensitive fragility, just as quiet as the protagonist, and just as tender. This mutual tenderness may be why the two characters work so well and fall in love with one another so easily. Even though it’s a quiet portrayal, it is not so understated that it is not noticeable; it is a perfectly noticeable role. The silence between the two, especially when in the car, is their own form of communication. They are, to some extent, kindred souls. They are able to create intimacy without anything physical. Just a look and just the music on the radio; that’s all they need. It reminds me of the line from Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction in which Uma Thurman’s Mia says, “That’s when you know you’ve found somebody special. Where you can just shut the f*** up for a minute and comfortably enjoy the silence.”
Albert Brooks plays against type in a stunning turn as a mobster who, originally, planned on investing in this Driver to race cars for him. Shame that didn’t go so well. This Brooks, who is certainly not the same guy we love and kind of loathe in Broadcast News or even Finding Nemo, is violent, unpredictable, and smarmy. He takes pleasure in getting as much as he can and at any cost. It is honestly a little shocking to see Brooks in such a violent role, verbally and physically, but it is thrilling nonetheless. Ron Perlman (Sons of Anarchy, Hellboy, Cronos) also shows his villainous side as a foul mouthed, ruthless Jewish mobster who owns, of all things, a pizzeria. With a slight Stallone-esque mumble, Perlman remains just as fearful as normal.
Ryan Gosling may be the star of the show, but an element of the film that accentuates the existential tone of the film is Drive’s superb cinematography. Newton Thomas Sigel, who worked with Bryan Singer on The Usual Suspects, creates a perfectly constructed symphony of slowly moving images. Slow and swift, the tracking shots throughout the film again accentuate the tone of the film. The film is so beautiful looking that you could blindly pick a random still from the film and it would be a work of art. The lighting is extraordinary, the tones shifting from scene to scene to reflect the mood of the Driver. Looking at this film wowed me and intoxicated me, for it is a stunning film to see.
Cut to the chase (scenes)? Yes, it can be a rather violent film. But the violence comes out of nowhere, which shook me to my core. The shocking inclusion and unexpectedness of the violence is perfect. Refn has said that the film is a bit of a tribute to Martin Scorsese’s masterpiece Taxi Driver, and like that film, its violence quakes on the screen. Drive, with its somewhat glacial pacing and quiet and serene mood, lulls you into a false sense of security and then, to put it bluntly, blows your mind. The car chases are just as exciting. Resembling the car chases more like Bullitt and The French Connection, in that the cinematography and look is cohesive and discernible (as opposed to chaotic, ahem Fast and the Furious), the chases pumped adrenaline into my veins. Tense and taut, the chase scenes were memorable and exciting.
Drive is a memorable exercise in subtlety as well as showmanship. It is at once complex and simple. Its protagonist embodies the existential hero, so well portrayed by Gosling. It is fair to say that the film was robbed of several Academy Award nominations this year: Director (Refn, who luckily won Best Director at the Cannes Film Festival), Cinematography, Actor (Gosling), Supporting Actress (Mulligan), Editing, and Supporting Actor (Brooks). It managed to nab one nomination and an important one for the film, Sound Editing. Sound plays a huge role in the tone, making one feel there with the characters. It is not complete silence, as the whirring of cars pass by. Paying homage to the great car chase films and even Scorsese and Paul Schrader’s “Lonely Man”, Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive is a carefully executed thrill, and one of the best films from 2011. Fasten your seatbelts; it’s gonna be an exhilarating ride.