Movie Review: Drive

My Rating: 3.5 stars (out of 4)

Spoilers: minor

We have a noir (or as Wikipedia redundantly labels it, a “neo noir crime thriller film”), set in modern day, with a character who is not named, carefully crafted aesthetic/lighting style, and multiple levels of symbolism. It’s almost a checklist of components of this movie. I’m set up to love Drive. I am its target audience.

But it’s probably bad form to make the first post of this new blog all about me, so let’s proceed to the non-self-referential review.

Drive is, above all, an exercise in style. It takes all the paragraphs noir narrators use describing dames and delinquents and translates them into long, beautifully composed frames that are generally closer to photographs than moving pictures.

Standard is not as easily pegged as this scene may suggest, and may in fact be the most complex character of the whole film. Having the character with the second-least screen time be your most interesting may be a flaw in other films, but this film is more about atmosphere and imagining how the past informs the present, not watching characters grow.

It’s not all shadows. Rehn also gives us the Orange and Teal by incorporating it into the decor rather than the outfits/lighting.

It’s modern movie style filtered through retro art design; which, essentially, is what Drive is. The music and titles are kitschy yet currently popular. The chase sequences (though few and none as good as the opener) are shot with lighting, camera work, and angles reminiscent of any vintage noir flick, then edited perhaps more clearly, but in the same style as the last decade of blockbusters.

Similar components pop up across different sets, tying everything together. Wardrobe is the most obvious, but note the wallpaper in the shot below, in a hotel room, and that in the apartment, above. Subconsciously, you’re going to connect the two, like so: ‘Though The Driver is fighting for his life in a generic hotel room, he’s really fighting for the girl down his hall.’

Drive isn’t solely self-referential; it evokes influences as diverse as GreaseKill Bill Vol. 1, David Cronenberg, and 20s-40s paperback noirs. In place of the bitingly verbose hero of said paperbacks, it inserts the blank-slated Western stoic in the tradition of the Man With No Name. The Driver is less Sam Spade and more Cool Hand Luke.

In keeping with its mixture of elements from modern and retro films, Drive employs hyper-realistic violence. Here the film lost me, and half a star. Though the film is hyper-stylized, it languidly observes life as art. Until, suddenly, someone gets her head spattered in slow-motion by a 12-gauge. Violence has its place in movies, as do epic showers of gore. But four scenes, specifically, would have been more at home in True Blood or From Dusk Till Dawn – absurd, gory fantasies replete with monsters – than here. The elevator scene particularly disturbs me, because without just one 2-second money shot, it’s a brutal commentary about sexual repression, violence, and a suggested buried past re-emerging. Instead, it makes the audience not just recoil but murmur and talk amongst themselves, breaking the tension. And not in a good way. Sopranos-level violence would have been much more appropriate.

Speaking of which, the end is perfectly ambiguous, redeeming – or almost – any flaws that came before. You can argue whether Christina Hendricks or Albert Brooks were used effectively (no and yes), you can argue whether the lack of subtlety in the music’s lyrics is helpful or harmful, you can argue about what the ending means, or what motivates the Driver, but you cannot convincingly argue the ending is not perfect.

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