Ryan Gosling gives me hope. Maybe that’s because I’m a huge fan of 1970s cinema. Here’s what I mean:
To me the 70s were the apex of the art form, when we still had big time movie stars that acted in a representational style and collaborated with iconoclast directors. It was a collision of contrast and style that produced a decade of masterpieces. The Conversation. McCabe & Mrs. Miller. Apocalypse Now. The Last Picture Show. China Town. Badlands. The list goes on…And on.
I think Ryan Gosling is a throwback to that era because he has modus operandi. Again, here’s what I mean:
Take that little smile of his. It’s a bit of a smirk, actually, but he does it with soft eyes. And the way that he clenches his jaw in a rhythmic tick…tock. He takes his time. He thinks. You see his process. The way he walks upright, shoulders back and how he throws his arm over the back of a chair. There’s another word for what he has. It’s called style.
I think Ryan Gosling would have thrived working with Gene Hackman. Julie Christie. Marlon Brando. These actors had style, whether they performed in the method, classical or ultra-naturalistic discipline. When you watch them you are watching a performance and I mean that with the utmost respect. It’s captivating. (No, it’s not like being a fly on the break room wall watching Allison and Brandon discussing Mr. Robot over quinoa, avocado and feta salads.) It is realism, yes, but it is not real. They are ACTORS.
Actors–at least the old-school ones– love to be watched and that make us want to watch. Ryan Gosling does that. He makes me want to watch.
Drive, the 2011 film directed by Nicolas Winding Refn is also a throwback–to 1980s cinema and televison. Think Michael Mann and the Miami Vice series. Think Brian De Palma. David Lynch. Think Blade Runner.
If you are from the era–and I am–the opening night time cityscape scene, with it’s turquoise to aquamarine color palette and magenta script credits, transports you there. Your driver? Ryan Gosling, of course, perusing the grit and glam in a primer gray 73 Malibu.
But hold on…It get’s better. Tunes? Oh, yeah. Heavily synthesized pop from College and Electric Youth, Kavinsky and Lovefoxxx and a original background score composed by Cliff Martinez immerses us in bass and a very specific retro vibe.
Too cool. And very schooled.
Danish director Refn comes from a cinematic family. His mother is a cinematographer; his father, an editor and director. Though he says he grew up hating the French New Wave that his parents revered, their influences, e.g., the highly stylized low lighting and narrative ambiguity are all over Drive.
Tellingly Refn’s professed greatest cinematic influence, the one that he defiantly loved knowing it would piss his mother off, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, is a film known for it’s disconcertingly beautiful cinematography among other things. With Drive the cinematography and “other things” are signatures that ignite the celluloid. It is a perfect example of synergy between lead actor and director.
Think Scorsese and De Niro. Yes, this film it is that good, though Refn’s catalog has fizzled since his 2011 breakout. Just as De Niro was ideally cast in Taxi Driver, so much so that he embodies the character, Gosling is quintessential here. He is the vehicle for Refn’s vision.
Gosling’s character doesn’t have a name. He is referred to as “the kid” or, aptly, “the driver.” As with other no name characters, the driver is a loner. He doesn’t even have a cat. Thus he is quiet. Aloof. He wears a peculiar quilted satin jacket with a scorpion on the back. It is the symbol for the astrological sign Scorpio. The Scorpio characteristics are: bravery, faithfulness, sensuality and ruthless resolve.
The driver is a stunt driver on the B movie circuit and a getaway driver for hire. He works for Shannon, his mentor of sorts, a garage owner and aging errand boy for some Jewish hoodlums with mafia ties, Bernie and Nino. The driver stays out of the politics of crime. He is an instrument of precision, nothing more nothing less. Treat him with the respect his pedigree deserves and there won’t be a problem. His end is always covered. Cross him…Well, it won’t be good.
A young mother with a little boy catches the driver’s eye. He observes her respectfully, from the distance of his character. Her name is Irene. She’s a good mom. There’s no man around. The three of them exchange gentle smiles in the elevator of their apartment building. That is all.
Then one day Irene has car trouble and the driver helps. But not before he calculates the odds; he knows he shouldn’t get involved. They have dinner. He plays Nintendo with the kid. They go for a drive. It’s sweet. One day bleeds into the next…And the next. They are happy.
Things get complicated (as they always do in film noir) when Irene’s husband shows up, after serving time in prison, expecting to pick up where he and his family left off. The kitchen gets even hotter when he–Standard is his name–is beaten within inches of his life by some thugs with connections to Bernie and Nino. Standard owes them forty thousand dollars. The thugs ominously give the little boy a bullet, who in turn gives it to the driver. The little boy is scared. He needn’t be.
The driver puts the bullet in his pocket. Then he takes the little boy’s hand into his own.
- Irene…..Carey Mulligan
- Shannon…..Bryan Cranston
- Bernie…..Albert Brooks
- Nino…..Ron Pearlman
- Standard…..Oscar Isaac
- Screenplay…..Hossein Amini
- Cinematography…..Newton Thomas Sigel
- Edited by…..Matt Newman