Can the Oscars give out awards to items of clothing? They should. Because Drive’s satin jacket with a scorpion on the back would win Best Supporting Actor.
Also, I doubt many would win a staring competition with Ryan Gosling’s nameless getaway driver/stuntman. He stares. A lot.
He stares at Carey Mulligan, who can’t really do much but stare back, and make googly, lovesick eyes at him. He stares at the road as he drives, unblinking, occasionally turning his head to stare in a different direction (probably in the wing mirror if performing an overtaking maneouvre, or over his shoulder if parallel parking when visiting the corner shop for a pint of milk). Walter from Breaking Bad, kind of his boss (although really, nobody is Gosling’s boss in this movie), talks in an animated fashion to Gosling, whose usual response to the conversation is to stare at him, or stare at the floor as he drinks coffee from a styrofoam cup.
He’ll smile occasionally, and when he does speak, it might be to ask where to put the groceries, or whether you’d like your teeth knocking down the back of your throat. He’s a man of gently simmering psychosis. Much of the fun is derived from simply watching him move; each step, each threatening point of a finger, is carefully controlled. There might be an explosion of violence at the end of it. There might not be. It’s always hard to tell, which adds greatly to the film’s often unpredictable nature.
He’s a character who, if you met him in real life, would weird you out. You’d think, even with his patented Hollywood good looks, “Shit, this guy’s a bit creepy.” And run a mile in the other direction. He’s a character who can only work in a particular type of highly stylized, mannered, imaginary movie land.
It reminds me a lot of Walter Hill’s The Driver from 1975. That too has a famous Ryan (O’Neal) playing an almost wordless getaway driver, a bad guy with a small bit of hero at his centre. Like Gosling, he remains nameless. The Driver takes it one step further, and makes everyone nameless. Drive doesn’t go that far. I think, for good reason. Gosling’s driver is a strange, almost inhuman presence, like a visitor from another planet. That he remains unnamed helps separate him from the rest of the named cast. He has a penchant for extreme violence, but only seems to use it for good. A good pyscho, then? Thousands of action movie heroes before him have used the same defence.
The Driver is more of a hard boiled thriller than Drive. The former also has the jokey cynicism of Bruce Dern’s detective, who pretty much overshadows Ryan O’ Neal throughout. Nobody overshadows Gosling (well, maybe the jacket does), despite a stellar supporting cast. Even when he’s not around, you feel like he might be watching. Drive is less concerned with getaway driving, preferring to focus on the burgeoning relationship not just with Carey Mulligan’s character, but her immediate family, including her husband. It’s slightly bewildering, and fascinating, the way he attaches himself to them. Mulligan seems to be just as confused as the audience, yet can’t help getting hooked on the enigmatic loner who lives next door. Even when he displays a darker side, there’s a part of her that still wants to know him.
The film draws from Michael Mann’s dreamy, urban landscapes for it’s influence. There seems to be a bit of Stanley Kubrick in there as well, where some scenes have human extras arranged as if for a photograph, as still as statues, regardless of what might be going on around them (there’s probably loads more influences, it’s that kind of film, and probably my fault for not having seen quite enough older movies to spot them, but hell, I’m working on it). Honestly, I haven’t seen such a beautiful movie in a long time. The car chases are crisply shot, and shun the hyper kinetic style of Matt Damon going through a gear change from fifty different angles in a Bourne movie. Nor are we hit with a barrage of crash-bang-wallop ala Michael Bay. Gosling drives smart, as well as fast.
It’s an almost impossibly cool movie.
Now if you don’t mind, I have a satin jacket I need to go and buy.