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Thursday, 13 October 2011

Lack of Drive ?

This is a review of Drive (2011)

More views of - or after - Cambridge Film Festival 2011
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)

14 October

This is a review of Drive (2011)

* Contains spoilers *

It took me a long time to seek to work this one out:

The lack of impetus for a review that I have experienced comes from no lasting impression of Drive (2011), in terms of thoughts that arise from it. It's not that one cannot choose to think about it, because I can, say, summon Carey Mulligan's face and demeanour (as Irene) to mind quite easily, but there is nothing in superficially recalling the fact that I have seen this film that makes me want to.

As with seeking to review Drive, it's not exactly that I have to force myself to revisit it, but that the film just doesn't seek me out unbidden and remind me of it (unlike, dare I say it, Tirza? - or Dimensions?).

Not that I think that anything is necessarily wrong, or, indeed that this isn't a good film (or that I wouldn't watch it again), because, unless there is a long list to be critical about, I would not find it natural to write as much about most documentaries than about most feature films - but without implying any superiority of one type over the other. Not having anything to say does not mean much, as the film may be eloquent enough on its own account (as is Charlotte Rampling in The Look, for example).

What I will say is this: Dirty Harry; restraint erupting into violence; Clint Eastwood. Those are all things that echo, not so much through Ryan Gosling's performance as Driver, as the character himself. A review in the Festival booklet TAKE ONE, of which I was a little and (I hope) no more than gently mocking, drew attention to the fact that, although we (I?) could swear that we hear him called something, we do not: Ryan Gosling is credited simply as Driver. (By contrast, in 1971, Eastwood was the Harry of the film's title.)

Does the lack of a name say more than Driver's prepared speech? Definitely, the speech is where I came in with thinking of Harry Callahan and his famous 'Do I feel lucky?' spiel.(Moreover, Harry is relatively nearby in San Francisco, where he is seeking a gunman calling himself Scorpio: and what is the emblem on Driver's light-coloured jacket?) For anyone who knows Harry, I cannot believe his formulation would not have been a touchstone for Driver's own, either because, as with Travis Bickle, Driver has modelled a persona, or (or as well) because the film is nodding to that sort of territory:

We first hear the set speech (as a recalled voiceover) where Driver is very much in control, dictating the terms; when we hear it again, he is trying to pretend (to himself, as much as anyone?) not only that he is still in control, but also that he knows what he has let himself in for - which he (clearly) does not. (Though there has been a foreshadowing of the violence in the scene where he is accosted, when drinking in a bar, by someone who recognizes him as having driven for him: it had not gone well for that man's accomplice and him, but he is told quite clearly where to get off when he makes a proposition to Driver.)

But is the attempt to be in control linked to, and just an aspect (albeit a central one) of, the namelessness? I think that it may be (don't worry, this isn't a review of the Eastwood film - trust me!): Harry asserts himself, asserts the role of chance, in confronting another man with a weapon that may (or may not) be out of ammunition, but does so through a set pattern of words - a mantra, a prayer, it doesn't matter what it is, it works for him, and that is what it is intended to do. After Driver's second utterance of his speech, he is more and more on his own in making choices, planning, seeking to regain control, to protect and survive.

Whatever his life exactly has been before, he has survived with work in the garage and, relatedly, driving. Yes, he does different sorts of driving (and there is a neat misdirection with the scene where he is about to do a stunt, and is dressed in LAPD uniform), but there is no detail, no feeling of a life led other than by a cipher.

When Irene asks him, he says that he has recently moved to the - unfurnished, unpersonalized? - apartment around the corner from her, but, after a hesitation, he continues that he is not new to Los Angeles (as becomes evident - from where he works, and from how he knows where he is going when he drives). (Yet, with the stunning night views of the city, I almost feel that we know LA better than we do Driver.)

So is what the film wants to say that meeting Irene and her son Benicio changes his life? - and, not necessarily for the better, vice versa? He wants to help and protect her - but in his chosen way, which involves exposing her to an epsiode in the lift that will surely gain a life of its own. However, as things happen (not entirely outside his own making - a self-destructive streak, consistent with the nature of the night driving that he does?), he cannot be with her, cannot do any more than further conceal his identity and who he is.

Maybe, if anywhere, that's where there is scope to wonder: what does he really see in Irene, and what is his vantage-point? Yes, she seeks his company (and, in doing so, is not being strictly honest about what her intentions are and what is possible), and she would - might? - not have sought it, if she had known the truth about him. He does more than go along, clearly enjoying spending some time (the film is vague as to how much or for how long) with Benicio and her, and becoming aware that they may be exposed to risk.

Regarding the timing of the second time that we hear Driver's speech, and where everything really starts to change, he tells Irene that he had offered to help Standard, her husband. That may or may not be true, as Standard is shown playing a line in innuendo and low-level menace that suggests that he thought ill of Driver's recent attentions to his wife and son, and that appearance seems more consistent with his having 'suggested' that Driver should help Standard with his problems.

In any event, whether he is free or not to do what he does, he assuredly does it for Irene and for Benicio, not for Standard. Maybe it seems likely that he would, maybe it doesn't, but he does, and that is just another part of his unknowability: the tender (but quiet) times in Irene's company, contrasted with the explosions of violence. Maybe more of Travis, along with Harry, after all...?

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