Monday, February 27, 2012

What the hell is up with Drive

I have a theory, and it's that at some point in the late '90s or early aughts, the American public so completely bought into the idea of "indie" filmmaking (which was then largely subsumed by Hollywood) that directors hit the goddamn jackpot: they could now get away with almost anything in the name of art. John and I watched two recent movies this weekend that fit my theory, both critically acclaimed and deeply flawed.

The first, Martha Marcy May Marlene, I mostly enjoyed; the major problem is that is has no ending. Most reviewers accept this as intentional ambiguity. Bullshit! There is good ambiguity and there is lazy ambiguity. The impression you walk away with is that the writer/director couldn't be bothered to write and film an ending. It's so ambiguous as to be infuriating. Still, I'm not sorry I watched it; it was interesting throughout, just ultimately unsatisfying (much like Black Swan).


Drive, on the other hand, is a complete failure as a movie. Let's just list out some of the many things wrong with it:

  • The casting is inane. (The woman who has three lines and then gets smacked and her brains blown out: that needed to be Christina Hendricks?) 
  • The first ~30 minutes are wildly tedious. As I tweeted last night, "Ryan Gosling never met a silence he didn't want to impregnate." I guess audiences accept huge gaps in dialogue as artsy. When the Gosling and Carey Mulligan characters do talk, it's pointless filler dialogue; they could be saying anything. 
  • I hate movies where the protagonist is just this unassailable badass. See the part where his boss says he's the best he's ever seen, get him behind a wheel and there's nothing he can't do, etc. (I'm reminded of Top Gun: "You're one hell of an instinctive pilot -- almost too good!") Meanwhile in most of the driving scenes he's just cruising around on regular streets at 30 mph. I guess we don't yet have the technology to film driving that good.
  • The soundtrack never got the "Show don't tell" memo. Ryan Gosling's character actually has a theme song whose lyrics are "A real human being and a real hero." #groan
  • Need I even mention the gratuitous tits and violence? I really was not prepared for the rivers of blood that flow in the second half of this movie. I don't necessarily mind violence in movies, but this was really over the top, and humorless to boot. 
I could go on, but I'm getting bored just thinking about this movie. People really thought this was good?

21 comments:

  1. i walked out of the movie thinking, among other things:

    1. i felt there was chemistry between romantic leads (the aforementioned pregnant pauses/burning stares). go figure.

    2. awesome opening scene. most movie car chases are interminably boring to me - somehow this one was new and fresh and could have basically lasted as long as they wanted to in my book. Halfway through it I was like, i want to make a movie that is just one long awesome car chase.

    3. My take on the soundtrack was that it was ballsily over-the-top, a la Douglas Sirk. Reveling in oversweet obviousness. Hard to make it work, you need that hint of irony and i thought it was there somehow - maybe because Ryan kept getting skinnier and dirtier and more fucked up and his silver jacket kept getting wrinklier. I actually bought the soundtrack!

    4. I thought the supporting actors were phenomenal. One of those movies where they show the leads what a real actor does. Especially the neighbor's husband. Yowza.

    5. The plot, dialog, etc. was cookie-cutter. But it like, didn't matter. It was all about cinematic power - cars, sex, betrayal, beauty.

    6. For a movie called "Drive", there was not enough driving. There were like 2 chase scenes in the whole movie. I needed Ryan behind the wheel for at least half of the second half of the movie. Schooling me with his driving skills.

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  2. My two cents ...

    -- There was chemistry, but I don't think chemistry is all that hard to achieve.

    -- There was plenty of driving, I thought, but you're right that most of it was not exciting (i.e. chase scenes, stunt driving), which was sort of interesting in and of itself I guess?

    I get that this is all most people want from a movie (cars and sex, some semblance of conflict, ultimate triumph). But I find it strange that this type of Hollywood movie now passes for critical darling too.

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  3. I thought the movie was gorgeous and simple. A lot of action movies are ugly and overly complex/produced. The story is also pretty cliche on the surface: a lowly get away driver gets tangled up with the top of the food chain after a botched robbery. But I think it feels fresh and this is why people liked it, because it's a change from that Hollywood norm. A movie that I can't help but compare this to is In Time, which has an unbelievable premise, but is absolutely terrible is so many ways.

    @chris, I have a title for your movie, Speed 3.

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  4. It is different from the norm, but bad in a different way doesn't equal good. It reminded me a lot of Collateral, actually.

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  5. imdb description of Collateral: "A cab driver finds himself the hostage of an engaging contract killer as he makes his rounds from hit to hit during one night in LA. He must find a way to save both himself and one last victim." This has a similar sleek, noir feel as well. Then went uber-Hollywood at the end.

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  6. Elisa, I watched Drive because of a glowing review by someone I trusted and it's essentially brand creation of a character "A real human being and a real hero" that males who based on market study like car chases and violence can live vicariously through in successive sequels. Casting Albert Brooks as the money man hits home how the attempts at humor, plot construction and supporting characters are lifted from Soderbergh's Out of Sight where Brooks plays a Michael Milken variation, which was a moment where Tarantino's use of Leone and the superficial aspects of Godard were made into something entertaining and well constructed. Had Gosling been conflicted between flying the coup with the loot and his new crush or sympathy for her doomed hubby, that would have approached the possibility of being interesting, but as Mark Crispin Miller wrote "Over and over, conventional narrative requirements are broken down by the imperative of violence—which need not be inflicted by 'us,' through the movie's hero, but is just as often used against us, by the movie's anti-hero, for what matters above all, it seems, is that we feel the stimulus." The longer version of that essay covers how scripts center around a character that fulfill a marketing-determined pattern of wish-fulfillment that can repeatedly produce predictable profits.

    http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/1990/04/hollywood-the-ad/5005/?single_page=true

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  7. Thanks for the link -- very interesting. I feel that in the past 10-15 years Apple is the new Coke when it comes to ubiquitous product placement in movies and TV. No "cool" character in media uses a computer that is not a Mac, and by God you WILL see the glowing Apple on the lid.

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  8. But how about that font?!

    I enjoyed Drive (and M4), but I had to leave the room because the violence was causing me to panic and I couldn't take it anymore.

    I also won an Oscar pool last night, and thought of you...

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  9. anybody seen any of Refn's other movies? they look f-ing awesome, but aside from Bronson i don't think they ever got released in the US ..

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  10. The font, I know! I was like, "Cocktail called, it wants its color scheme back...."

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  11. I haven't seen Drive -- this just by way of context --

    Of all the movie car chases I've seen over the years, the one I always think of first when I think of "great movie car chases" is the one in The French Connection, where Gene Hackman's character drives breakneck the wrong way down a one-way street (at least that's how I remember it, though maybe just *seemed* like wrong way down a one-way street), chasing (just above him) a runaway el train with a ruthless killer on board.

    Most recent movie I saw in a theater was The Ides of March, which I generally liked (and which, as it happens, also has Ryan Gosling in it).

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  12. The only other Ryan Gosling movie I've seen in full, I'm pretty sure, is All Good Things, which I saw recently. Like MMMM, it was nice to look at and the content was interesting, but it felt hollow in the end. RG's acting method seemed much the same: lots of staring and silence.

    The French Connection! I keep meaning to see that. Keep forgetting about it when I want to watch a movie.

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  13. I just found online that the Repo Man car chase on the aqueduct (not technically interesting, signifying upholding protagonists' standards of legality and private property) was lifted by Alex Cox from Grease (which I never saw).. similar to the stunt on Gosling's trip to the park in Drive. The discussion between Tim Roth and Amanda Plummer before the hold up at the beginning of Pulp Fiction is taken from Repo Man, as well as several other things I can't remember right now. Godard's car chases tend to break down the fourth wall and verisimilitude and represent cinematic escape and lawlessness which has an intentionally precarious relation to actual escape. I see SUVs called Escape on the road so Detroit has apparently made that theme obsolete. There's a car chase in Welles' Touch of Evil that furthers the plot, perhaps as I recall representing people's inability to escape corruption, and one in Antonioni's The Passenger that represents escape less ironically than in Godard. The car chase is something the movies rather than theater can do, the written word doesn't have the visual prompts for that and is frankly much better off without it, and allows inercutting between the characters' conflict in different cars and the interactions within the car.

    Gosling is trying to act like Clint Eastwood and the character is a Clint in Leone type.

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    1. I absolutely thought of Grease during that scene -- I haven't seen Repo Man.

      Loved that whole article you recommended, by the way. Crazy that it was written in 1990. The situation (as far as movies being ads) has gotten so much worse since then.

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  14. The FC car chase is good but my faves are the chases in Ronin. Those are seriously nuts.

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    1. Allen, what did you think of Drive? Have you seen it?

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  15. no, haven't seen it sorry. don't think i've seen any RG movie

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  16. I watched the film twice (thrice?), and while reading this post I suddenly felt dumb, like I needed to explain something. Well, the opening scene is good. It's not like Armageddon or anything, but the opening sequence presented everything I like in the movie.

    Ditto @Robert re: its simplicity. At least it didn't have RG crying over a crashed bus. Though the driving is another matter: I'm not really expecting something like Tokyo Drift.

    Plus, don't you feel like it kind of achieved the 80s look, or is it just me?

    Not that anything 80s is good, though. All I can say is: the font sucks, and they intended it. Bravo.

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    1. The font looks like the 80s, yes -- do you mean the whole movie has an 80s feel? I didn't really think that. Was it supposed to? Did it take place in the 80s? Did I miss something?

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    2. Well, the iPhone one of the girls was using in one of the club scenes ruined the 80s feel. But the devil-may-care driver thing was so 80s, like Grand Theft Auto.

      Or maybe the 80s is beside the point. I rest my case by saying, well, I like Grand Theft Auto.

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  17. I did not understand the meaning of this movie.

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