Film review – Drive (2011)

26 October 2011
Drive - Driver (Ryan Gosling)

Driver (Ryan Gosling)

In this unofficial prequel to Blade Runner Ryan Gosling plays an early replicant model who yearns to be human. He’s a machine programmed as part stunt man, part mechanic and part getaway driver – a being who is at one with the cars he is almost indistinguishable from. When he wears a prosthetic mask he may as well be exchanging one blank face for another. Known simply as Driver, his programming is threatened when he begins to develop empathy after meeting Irene (Carey Mulligan) and her young son. After years of observing humanity, the feelings of love that have been awakened within Driver have lead him to compute that he can join the human race by becoming part of a family as a husband and father. Despite receiving support from his friend and manager Shannon (Bryan Cranston), who is Geppetto to his Pinocchio, Driver soon gets in the way of far more powerful forces who prefer their machines to remain subservient. While not yet a fully formed person, Driver responds violently, the only way his programming allows him to.

That’s one way to read Drive. The far more conventional way is to see it as a slick neo noir film about a loner who gets on the wrong side of local mobsters Bernie Rose (Albert Brooks) and Nino (Ron Perlman) while trying to help a woman he has fallen in love with. He’s a combination of one of Paul Schrader’s lonely men and the Man With No Name, with a few tendencies borrowed from the pixelated protagonists of the Grand Theft Auto gaming franchise. After Bronson (2008) and Valhalla Rising (2009), Drive is the third film in a row by director Nicolas Winding Refn that explores violent lone men. While the previous two films featured lead characters who embraced their capacity for violence, Driver wants something more.

Drive - Irene (Carey Mulligan)

Irene (Carey Mulligan)

While the title Drive obviously reflects Driver’s extraordinary prowess behind the wheel, it also indicates that the film is about what drives him. Prior to meeting Irene he merely exists, but afterwards his life has purpose leading him to put everything at risk. So in classic film noir style Irene is the cause of his undoing, but only in the sense that she awakens the humanity within him that for whatever reason was long dormant. He becomes driven by the need to see that Irene is protected and provided for. She doesn’t seduce him nor is he driven by sexual desire. The film explicitly depicts the attraction between them as being played out through him adopting the domestic role of father and husband, often with the lyrics ‘And you have proved to be a real human being and a real hero’ playing on the soundtrack.

Stylistically Drive is a triumph of minimalist cool, reflecting the focus and precision Driver brings to everything he does. The major ‘fault’ with the film is that the opening sequence, depicting Driver at work as a getaway driver, is such a brilliant piece of intense and visceral cinema that there is no way for the rest of the film to live up to it. However, it comes pretty close with the first part of the film evoking 1980s crimes thrillers by Michael Mann and William Friedkin, before the graphic and almost dreamlike violence in the second half of the film brings to mind some of Sam Peckinpah’s later films. The result is a gorgeous fusion of pulp genre cinema with an almost abstract approach to characterisation. The 1980s inspired synthesiser heavy dream-pop soundtrack is just an added bonus.

Thomas Caldwell, 2011

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MIFF 2011 Blog-a-thon: Part 15

7 August 2011
Drive

Drive

How do you transform a B-grade action/thriller into an ultra stylish neo noir? Give it to director Nicolas Winding Refn to direct apparently. This year’s Closing Night film Drive was an inspired choice, which I’d love to describe as a homage to 1980s action cinema with a distinctively European edge, but I can’t since there is a self-referential joke in the film about a critic who wrote exactly that. Ryan Gosling plays a stuntman who moonlights as a getaway driver, and his steely and cool performance sets the tone for the film. For at least the first half of Drive it feels like something Paul Schrader may have made. The second half of the film revels more in its generic characteristics with the very graphic and pulpy violence recalling Sam Peckinpah’s The Getaway and Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia. I did find Drive ultimately a little anti-climatic and was a bit disappointed that more wasn’t made of the Driver’s skills behind the wheel. But don’t get me wrong, this is still a finely crafted piece of cinema and a highlight of the festival.

[EDIT 26/10/2011: Read a full review of Drive]

The Mill and the Cross functions as a living painting and an imagining of how that painting was created. Fusing art, cinema and history, filmmaker Lech Majewski dramatically brings Pieter Brueghel’s 1564 The Procession to Calvary to life with a degree of ambition the rivals the more esoteric work of Peter Greenaway. Most interesting is the web-like structure of the painting that is initially replicated in the film with a web-like narrative structure, with Rutger Hauer as Breughel in the centre and differenet strands of interlocking stories stretching out from him. This is unfortunately somewhat lost when the film ends up focusing on the religious iconography in The Procession to Calvary, with a lengthy re-enactment of Christ’s crucifixion. As The Mill and the Cross was originally designed to be exhibited in a gallery context, I couldn’t help but think it may have worked better as a multi-screen installation to further liberate the concept from the lineal restrictions of cinema.

Cave of Forgotten Dreams

Cave of Forgotten Dreams

Leave it to the innovative maverick Werner Herzog to be one of the few directors to use 3D in a way that not only enhances the film, but is also essential for that film. Herzog hasn’t created a new world in Cave of Forgotten Dreams, but he does take us into one that very few humans will ever get to experience. It is the world of the Chauvet-Pont-d’Arc Cave, which contains both a delicate natural beauty and fragile cave paintings that are now considered the oldest known examples of primitive art. Part nature documentary and part art documentary, Cave of Forgotten Dreams is an astonishing privilege to experience. Various scientific experts help to bring the artwork to life and create a vivid picture of how the caves where used by early humans and animals such as the extinct cave bear. Herzog’s narration contains no self censorship as he muses about the profound nature of what these caves hold.

[EDIT 7/10/2011: Read a full review of Cave of Forgotten Dreams]

MIFFhaps

I attempted to meet David Stratton last night and completely bollocksed it up. Standing by himself before the Closing Night film, I approached him for a chat, suddenly got a bit overwhelmed and said something like, ‘Hello Mr Stratton, I’m a film critic and hi and you’re a big inspiration and hi and so are you here for the ACMI event that’s coming up?’

His reply was, ‘ No, I’m coming back to Melbourne a bit later for the ACMI event. I’m here tonight for MIFF.’

I then just stood there nodding like an idiot, went completely blank, muttered ‘thank you’ and then literally ran off. One of the people I know from Triple R walked past me and whispered, ‘Next time just pee on him.’

Show us your MIFF

Having previously worked for MIFF,  Beatrix Coles is enjoying this year’s festival as a punter, with Another Earth and Life in Movement to look forward to today. Although they are both very different films her anticipation levels for both are equally high. She loved seeing Autoluminescent: Rowland S. Howard with an audience largely composed of people who knew Howard, which was a really special experience. Over the years she’s also enjoyed seeing the Forum in full swing: ‘It’s my ultimate Friday night after work spot, and I wish it was open all year round.’ Beatrix is currently working on Authentic In All Caps,  a playful web-driven comedy-drama about a gambling philosopher. Beatrix’s all-time favourite film is A Hard Day’s Night, a film she can always watch.

Thomas Caldwell, 2011

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MIFF 2009 reviews – Bronson (2009), The 10 Conditions of Love (2009), Krabat (2008)

25 July 2009

Reviews of film screening during the 2009 Melbourne International Film Festival.

Bronson (Nicolas Winding Refn, 2009) ✭✭✭✭
The 10 Conditions of Love (Jeff Daniels, 2009) ✭✭✭✭
Krabat (Marco Kreuzpaintner, 2008) ✭✭✭✩

Bronson

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Charles Bronson (Tom Hardy)

The British press once described Charles “Charlie” Bronson as the “most violent prisoner in Britain.” He has spent most of his life in prison and for most of that time he has been in solitary confinement. Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn likes grim subject matter but audiences expecting the gritty social realism of his Pusher trilogy are going to be very surprised by Bronson, which is a macabre blend of horror and comedy, biographical information and complete fabrication, realism and Brechtian techniques. Bronson is presented as a showman whose acts of violence are his greatest source of self-expression and throughout the film Bronson appears on a stage addressing an unseen audience as if he is taking part in a bizarre one person pantomime. Bronson’s criminality and delusions of grandeur make Bronson comparable to Chopper but the satirical avant garde nature of Bronson also makes it very close in tone to A Clockwork Orange. Considering that Bronson’s sole response to everything he encounters is to simply commit violence, Refn and actor Tom Hardy, who plays Bronson, have done a remarkable job of making such a compelling, entertaining and disturbing film.

The 10 Conditions of Love

Rebiya Kadeer is a successful businesswoman, political activist and human rights advocate. She campaigns for the rights of the Uyghur people who live in Xinjiang, a supposedly autonomous region of the People’s Republic of China. Known as East Turkistan by the Uyghur people, Xinjiang was annexed by China in 1949, similarly to how China later also annexed Tibet. As a Uyghur person herself, Kadeer has long campaigned about the ethnic, political, religious and economic persecution that her people have suffered. The documentary The 10 Conditions of Love tells Rebiya’s story and she is an extraordinary woman who has made some incredible personal sacrifices to bring the plight of the Uyghur people to the attention of the rest of the world. The 10 Conditions of Love is an eye-opening and moving tribute to her work, which is far from over. It’s a film that needs to be seen and if the recent demands by the Chinese government for it not to be shown at the Melbourne International Film Festival have generated more publicity for the film than it would have attracted otherwise, then this is a good thing.

Interview with The 10 Conditions of Love director Jeff Daniels from The Casting Couch 18 July 2009
http://www.cpod.org.au/download.php?id=1621

Krabat

The German fantasy Krabat is an 18th century tale of magic and morality in the vein of classic Brothers Grimm stories. Based on the 1971 German novel The Satanic Mill, which was based on tales dating back to the 17th century, Krabat is about a 14-year-old boy who joins a secret brotherhood of apprentices training in Black Magic. The boy, Krabat (played by David Kross from The Reader), is initially pleased to have apparently found his place in the world but soon discovers that his training comes with a terrible price. Krabat is a refreshingly highbrow fantasy film that doesn’t contain any extraneous exposition and explanation, uses its special effect sequences sparingly and is incredibly serious. The protagonists of the film may be predominantly teenage boys and young men but this is a film aimed at an adult audience. Nevertheless, there is something a little overtly cold and detached about Krabat that prevents you from becoming fully immersed in its dark and mysterious story.

© Thomas Caldwell, 2009

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