Refn’s Career On Display In ‘Drive’

I’m sometimes intimidated at the thought of reviewing my all-time favorite films.

When you love something that much, talking about it can easily turn into more of a fanboy-like rave session rather than a thoughtful discussion. Whether that’s your intention or not, it’s hard to avoid it.

I’ve seen Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive three times now. I still remember the high anticipation I had for it this past year. I remember smiling ear to ear with a huge grin at the film’s opening sequence and the warm, fuzzy feeling the hot pink opening credits brought me.

Let’s face it. Drive was badly snubbed this award season. That doesn’t matter now and it didn’t matter then, but the point still stands. Even I, who holds the Oscars and other award shows in low regard and isn’t surprised by most snubs, was shocked at the lack of respect Refn’s film received during award season. And I’m still not sure I understand why.

After all I’ve seen from the last year in film, Drive remains my favorite. It’s had many viable contenders to dethrone it from that position, but not much can really hold a candle to a Refn film – especially one like Drive, constructed in meticulous, near-perfect fashion that isn’t seen or known by other filmmakers.

Refn’s visceral nature is what separates him from other filmmakers. It started with his debut film Pusher, a gut-wrenching tale of drug dealers that spawned two equally impressive and gritty sequels, and has continued throughout his career with under-the-radar films that inspire creativity like Bronson.

What Drive brings to the table in its main character – the Driver (Ryan Gosling) – is more reminiscent of the contemplative, studious characters a mastermind like Jean-Pierre Melville might direct through gritty crime drams in the 1960’s or 1970’s. I obviously am quick to think of Jef Costello (Alain Delon) from Melville’s Le Samourai, the hitman who performs under the direction of his beliefs and functions as a student of a certain way of life. Like Costello, there isn’t much up front about the Driver to see or hear. They’re quiet and calculated, they’re calm and talented. They perform the way they want to, the way they need to and the way they must.

I can see how Drive wouldn’t screen well with a lot of folks. Like the main character, it too is hardly explosive, subtle and quiet. Having the star power of a Gosling and Carey Mulligan gave Drive the audience it would have never have wanted or needed otherwise. There’s no way a similar film with unknowns playing the lead role would have gotten the same mainstream play and acclaim that Drive eventually received. It’s too weird and slow burning for that to happen.

But I am glad that Refn’s name has escaped its previous cage of obscurity. He’s now a long-working filmmaker and one of the freshest and most creative minds working. Drive is a culmination of all that he’s worked on. It has the maintained calming of a Valhalla Rising, a contained explosive like in the Pusher trilogy and a creative approach of a Bronson. It is his best film yet.

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