Love In An Elevator, Livin’ It Up When I’m Goin’ Down
Driver (Ryan Gosling), the stoic, monotone, toothpick chewing doomed hero of Nicolas Winding Refn’s cool, eighties-riffing neo-noir Drive, is an enigma. A blank slate from an unexamined troubled past, a James Dean / Richard Gere a-like driver for the movies, who seeks to be “a real human being”.
His gaudy quilted scorpion jacket is a costume he dons like a superhero, out to protect neighbour Irene (Carey Mulligan) and young son Benicio (Kaden Leos) after reluctantly helping her newly released, compromised husband Standard (Oscar Isaaac) in a robbery gone wrong. This urban Shane is about to explode into a brutal display of violence as a wrong headed love letter to the unfortunate Irene.
As the elevator doors of their apartment building open and a besuited man is revealed within, Driver clumsily asks Irene to take the money from the robbery and leave with him. “I could come with you, protect you,” he stumbles, like Taxi Driver’s Travis Bickle to Iris (Is it a coincidence the hero’s fair maidens names are similar?). When he spots the other man’s gun bulging from beneath his jacket, everything changes – cockolded innocence and concussive violence clash, in ferocious intimacy.
Reality stops as Driver, to the sound of Cliff Martinez’s score queuing up, turns, the light shrinking and haloing around these two star crossed would be lovers. He gently pushes her to the corner and turns, slowly, lingeringly kissing her, knowing he is about to cross a line he can’t return from. After a long, measured beat, the light dials up to normal, the score stops and Driver lashes out, the sound kicking back in (this slowing down and sickly haloing effect can also be seen in Michael Mann’s Manhunter, when killer Dollarhyde believes he sees new object of affection Reba kissing her boss).
What follows is a savage head stomping, as Driver smashes the goon’s head again and again. By the 12th stomp, we can hear bone break, but Driver and Refn don’t know when to sto(m)p. By stomp 15, his foot is sliding on viscera and blood. Sound designers Lon Bender and Victor Rey Ennis sampled slowed down cracking nuts and viscous liquid. Barely noticeable over this is Goslings’s laboured breathing and flying snot.
This stunning display of primal terror done, Driver turns to Irene, standing in the corner, transfixed, beginning to back out into the basement garage. What should be a powerful moment of realisation for both characters, that a monster has been unleashed, destroying forever the fuzzy innocence of joyrides along the LA drainage system, unfortunately doesn’t work. Gosling instead gives Mulligan a goofy look, as if to say, “Look what I just did for you, honey. Did I do good?”
Mulligan meanwhile looks as if she’s trying to remember if she left the gas on. Whatever she’s looking at, it’s not a blood be-smeared psychopath standing over a headless body. I blame the director Refn, in thrall to his idea of a crime story version of John Hughes’ 16 Candles. He wants to both have his cake and eat it. That means Driver must absolutely be the hero, no matter what has just happened. At the end Irene (who hasn’t, like any sensible person, fled for the Hollywood hills), raps on Driver’s door. What could she fancy for a follow up date – watching him eviscerate a purse snatcher?
Drive may have moments of surface sheen and chilled cool, but with this mis-judgement, it’s also deeply dippy.
UPDATE: Below is an edit, “Goodbye Kiss” from Vimeo user Whoispablo which intercuts Driver’s interactions with Irene, and the violent actions that led him to protect her, as motifs of regret.
Originally posted 2013-06-20 19:18:11. Republished by Blog Post Promoter