Sunday, September 18, 2011

Nicolas Winding Refn: Gold Standard (Drive)

Kaden Leos, Carey Mulligan, Ryan Gosling, Drive, FilmDistrict, 2011.

With the force of a ten ton truck, Nicolas Winding Refn's incendiary crime drama Drive schools all the American boys on how to play with their toys. Taking the guise of an action-thriller, Refn's exhilarating new picture is that and much more. For its not easy to define the richly complicated works of one of the best young filmmakers working in the world.

Here he has crafted a masterly homage to the glorious 80s films of Ridley Scott and Michael Mann, dim lit expressionist L.A. streets teeming with the heat and panache of affected action movie making.. Simultaneously a thriller, a character study, an actor's showcase, a family drama, a literal and figurative chase film, a revenge drama. First and foremost, this stylistic powerhouse is a moving love story. Refn is in complete command of his creation as he unites the mainstream with the artistic, which is rarely seen at the movies these days. The prowl of his tremulous camera, his peerless blend of sound and vision, the beats of his characters' hearts are so close to us we can feel them.

Ryan Gosling gives a career defining turn as the driver, a movie stunt driver by day, getaway driver by night. The affectations and restraint he displays are brilliant, as he holds us at bay, controlled cadences perplexing us at who this man really is, betraying little pieces of his soul. His electric solitude is truly star making.The mechanism of Hossein Amini's ruggedly sparse script is perfectly played out in beats by Refn and his game cast. Carey Mulligan, Bryan Cranston, Ron Perlman, Oscar Isaac, Kaden Leos and Christina Hendricks have never been better in a film. Albert Brooks gives a chillingly transformative performance which gasps with evil brilliance.

Newton Thomas Sigel's hushed visual overtones blight and intensify, hiding these fringe people in shadow and illuminating their complexities. It is the strongest work thus far on his excellent resume. Cliff Martinez's score is a thing of electronically brooding beauty, effusive and roughshod, while the songs used in the film fit the retro-future soul of a movie basking in the glories of the past while looking to the promises of the future.

Refn, a young master whose Pusher Trilogy, Bronson and Valhalla Rising are some of the most genre smashing triumphs of the art form in the past decade, here goes above and beyond. Like the great Hollywood helmers of the past, and even more so, he takes the skeleton of another's script and brings it thrashing to pulpy, orgasmic life. Imbued with gender duality, rich in visual and thematic subtext, the director highlights the lonely spirit of city life while pinpointing the soul of his inspirations. Culpable tension escalates, infusing standards with severe subtlety. A masterpiece on many levels, his Drive left me in a state of cinematic ecstasy.

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