Sunday, 9 October 2011

Drive: a journey through LA

Carson-Dominguez, Los Angeles (2002)

From the opening moments of Drive (2011) we are immersed in a riveting depiction of Los Angeles at night introduced via a dramatic chase scene, as the main character, played by the almost impassive Ryan Gosling, acts as getaway driver for a heist. Pursued by a swarm of police cars he swerves through the city, pausing briefly beneath an elevated expressway as helicopter searchlights scour the landscape.

With Drive, the young Danish film director Nicolas Winding Refn has created a stunning drama that exudes a certain effortlessness in its sparse dialogue and tight narrative structure. The first half of the film in particular builds a sense of extraordinary tension as Gosling’s driver befriends a neighbour (played by Carrie Mulligan) whose husband is about to be released from jail. The gradual descent into terrifying and at times unwatchable violence (for me at least) is reminiscent of Gasper Noe’s Irreversible (2002) in its nihilistic excess.

What strikes me most, however, about Drive is the strange retro feel of Los Angeles itself with its honeycombed structure of parking bays, elevated highways and the sci-fi space of the LA River, which forms the background to a tranquil interlude before the descent into chaos. Notwithstanding the comical excess of the second half of the movie, Drive is destined to be a classic LA film, that pushes the symbolic dominance of the car to a new level of claustrophobia and exhilaration.

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