Thursday, January 12, 2012

The Best Thing About 'Drive' That's Not Ryan Gosling

"But he's been pretty much yellow
And I've been kinda blue
But all I can see is
Red, red, red, red, red now
What am I gonna do?"

-- "Red Red Red," Fiona Apple

The color red.

My God, there was so much of it in Drive! I've really got to learn how to stomach red red red, particularly when it's gushing forth from human bodies on movie and TV screens. For weeks, reviews that promised there'd be lots of that in Drive stopped me from putting my screener into the DVD player.

Thanks to the most recent rave review, courtesy of my friend Atzin, who just saw it on an airplane (hopefully, there was low turbulence), I decided to stop giving in to my fear. I'm glad I had that sudden burst of courage. While Drive was probably too unsettling an experience to put it in the upper reaches of my Top 10 of 2011 list (it was far more impressive than entertaining, or moving, and my favorite movies need to be all three in almost equal measure), I'm looking forward to watching it again.

Ryan Gosling as the driver was typically appealing. (I don't care what People magazine says, he's the sexiest man alive.) As Irene, Carey Mulligan didn't have so much to do, but she did it well, and I still think she'll be known as "Academy Award winner Carey Mulligan" by the time she hits 30. I liked Irene and her son's relationship with the driver, but I don't think it was detailed enough in the film to explain why the driver would go to such great lengths to protect her and her son. Perhaps a stronger focus on their relationship would have made his sacrifice -- and the film -- more moving for me.

As for Albert Brooks, well, he's scary indeed, but there's no real character arc, though his benevolent manner of slashing the wrist of the driver's boss Shannon (a standout Bryan Cranston) was duly noted. (There's his Oscar clip. The rest is stylized moustache twirling.) He just shows up every now and then to let you know that more red red red is on the way. I'm still rooting for Beginners' Christopher Plummer for Best Supporting Actor.

The film itself is a stunning cinematic fugue of sound and visuals. Sure those two slaps looked too fake (Why pull punches there and nowhere else?), and the violence was largely gratuitous, but would it be wrong to say that like pretty much every sequence, the gory bits were beautifully choreographed and filmed? I want whoever is responsible for Gosling's complimentary lighting to start following me around. That said, I'm not sure that the movie wouldn't have been just as impressive without all of that red red red.

That's a lot less than can be said about the music. The soundtrack, a combination of Cliff Martinez' score and '80s-style electro-pop songs that does not include the above-quoted Fiona Apple song, so perfectly enhanced the proceedings that I can't imagine the movie without it. Its MVP: "Under Your Spell," a 2009 track by Desire, an American/French/Canadian synth-pop act, that turned a semi-throwaway sequence -- a party for Irene's husband Standard's return home from prison -- into one of the most memorable parts of the movie. Boy, I've been there! I could watch an entire film with no dialogue, just "Under Your Spell" on a continuous loop (and preferably, with Gosling in the lead).

In Drive, I think the song was supposed to reflect how the driver felt about Irene, but I heard it more as a musical tribute to Gosling's massive appeal. So in the end, the best thing about Drive that wasn't Ryan Gosling was still all about him.

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