Film Review: Drive (or ‘A Masterpiece or A Case of Style over Substance?’)

“Hope you like it. I love that movie. So many silences in the script, yet so much said in them. George Lucas would hate this movie.”Whyzippyisorange

“It’s Shite’Toby Puller

When I tweeted last night that I was at long last going to watch Drive– the film that ‘got away’ from me last year, so to speak – these were a couple of the responses I got. As you can see, the two chaps sit on opposite sides of the fence on this one.

The font used in the word 'Drive' in this poster and in the credits of the film suggest something made in the 1980s. That becomes quite confusing...

While I loosely knew what it was about, the way it manages to divide opinion intrigued me, and those tweets only emphasised that intrigue.

What side of the fence would I land on?

Thoughts

I’m dispensing with the ‘What’s This Film About’ bit, because the thing about Drive that struck me was that the plot of this film wasn’t really the issue.

Yes, the story is about a Hollywood stunt driver who ends messing with the wrong people after a heist he was involved in went wrong, but what the film is really about is the directorial style.

In the quote above, Whyzippyisorange talks about the silences in the script. That’s the most notable film here. Nicolas Winding Refn (a name only slightly less ridiculous that Whyzippyisorange) seems to have set out to make as many of his scenes ‘silent’ as possible. Not in the same way as ‘The Artist’ or any other actual silent movie, but rather in a more ‘organic’ way. There are certain situations where people don’t talk. I’m sitting here typing this and I’m not talking, but should anyone be watching me they would know what I’m doing. It’s that sort of thing.

So for example there are scenes where Ryan Gosling’s character is driving, and the director sets out to show that journey.  Or there is a scene in a lift where he realises a guy has been sent to kill him and he has to attack that guy first. These sorts of scenes don’t need dialogue, so it works well within the context of the film.

The problem though is that it happens too often and the result is you have a film that is reasonably short anyway at around 100 minutes long, but with only enough plot for maybe a 45 minute one. So in that sense it’s like the plot is an afterthought to the style the director wanted to take, and so I would ask if this is a Chicken or Egg situation. Did he film it like this because the script wasn’t exactly full-bodied. or did he want to make a film with so many silences and then had to find a scenario where that would work?

Whatever the case may be, I think it’s a problem when the directorial style is more noteworthy than the plot and indeed the acting of that plot. A guy like Hitchcock had his gimmicks; look at Rope – a film that he made specifically because he wanted to do a film that worked like a play. But the style of Rope is not why I like it – the performance of the actors and the razor-sharp script is.

That’s not to say I didn’t like Drive, because I did. It took me a while to get into it, but once the film started to piece together it became quite enjoyable. Having said that, it’s by no means as great a film as I’ve heard people say it is. But then not everyone likes the same sorts of things, and that brings me back to the quotes at the top of the article.

Should You Watch Drive?

Whether or not you should watch Drive depends upon your opinion on style versus substance.

If you believe that cinema is a form of art and the key to it is the expressionism of the director, then I suspect you’ll love Drive. If you are looking for a weighty script where the value of the film lies within the dialogue, then you might not. And if your idea of the best film is a big budget action adventure then you should probably avoid it.

And that’s not me being critical of the latter subsection of viewers at all. I’m not being all ‘film snob’ here because my opinion of this film is that while I enjoyed it and felt like the director certainly got it right in terms of the use of music, I felt it lacked depth and tried to hard to be ‘Cinematic Art’.

I can understand why the guys I’m quoting from have the opinions that they do, and so I’m going to do what I hate…

As far as Drive goes, I’m sitting firmly on the fence.

But Wait…

As much as I’d love to have ended the review on that note, I need to ask this question of people who have seen it and maybe know a bit more about this film that I do…

Why is the film initially suggested to be set in the 1980s?

Some of the skyline shots, music and definitely the font style used in the opening credits scream 1980s. And yet it’s set in the modern day? What’s that about?

Answers on a postcard…

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3 Responses to Film Review: Drive (or ‘A Masterpiece or A Case of Style over Substance?’)

  1. Shimky says:

    “As far as Drive goes, I’m sitting firmly on the fence.”

    I am totally with you. I’ve watched it once and I am completely undecided whether I liked it or not. I’ve never had such a strange, ambivalent feeling after watching a film.

    You know what, I’ll watch it again tonight!

  2. […] The First Avenger Chronicle Contagian The Dark Knight Rises Django Unchained Double Indemnity Drive Final Destination 5 Flight Friends With Benefits The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo The Green Hornet […]

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