Cinema Reviews Thoughts


This ultra stylish LA noir not only provides Ryan Gosling with an memorable lead role but cleverly takes a European approach to an American genre film.

When an enigmatic stunt driver (Ryan Gosling) decides to help out his neighbour (Carey Mulligan) and her family, he finds himself caught up in a dangerous game with a local businessman (Albert Brooks).

Hollywood driver by day and getaway driver at night, the nameless protagonist finds his spartan existence threatened by his emotions and an increasingly tangled web of criminality.

The opening sequence sets the mood as we hear the Driver explain his code of rules and then assist in a getaway which shows both his mastery of cars and the backstreets of Los Angeles.

Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn shoots the city with a coolly detached European eye: his images are steady, composed and artful, whilst jolts of violence and sparse dialogue make it feel like a modern day update of a Leone western or a Melville crime drama.

Adapted from a 2005 novel by James Sallis by screenwriter Hossein Amini, it was originally going to be a bigger budget film with Hugh Jackman in the lead and Neil Marshall directing.

However, the decision to rebuild the project as a sleeker, lower cost model has proved inspired as it manages to successfully combine satisfying genre elements within a stylish European exterior.

Attired in a satin jacket, Gosling is borderline iconic in the lead role, channelling the likes of Steve McQueen in Bullit (1968) and Alain Delon in Le Samurai (1967), but also displaying an undercurrent of emotion as he quietly seeks human intimacy.

In a male-dominated crime story Mulligan is given less to do, although she has a tangible screen presence, and in a minor supporting role Christina Hendricks feels almost unrecognisable from Mad Men.

Brooks has the stand out supporting role as a wily crime boss and he’s brilliantly cast against type, injecting the role with just the right blend of geniality and menace, whilst Bryan Cranston, Ron Perlman and Oscar Isaac offer solid support.

Refn often opts for enigmatic silence or music, instead of clumsy dialogue to reveal emotions: sequences involving drives, hallways or lifts are expertly handled and the help connect the dazzling visual artifice with a deep emotional core.

The pacing is lean and mean, without a scene being wasted as the narrative plays around with the heist movie form; establishing, overhead shots of LA unusually focus on the cars and there are some genuinely surprising moments sprinkled amongst the genre elements.

Newton Thomas Siegel‘s widescreen cinematography paints a striking vision of LA as a neon-soaked den of crime but also frames the domestic interior and driving sequences in fresh and interesting ways.

Using the digital Arri Alexa camera, the LA night time visuals are strikingly alive (superior in quality to the digitally-shot Collateral back in 2004) and the tasteful, considered compositions feel like gulps of fresh air in an era of chaotic action visuals.

The sound design by Lou Bender and Victor Ray Ennis also really sells the action, be it the squeak of Gosling’s driver gloves, the roar of his car engine or the cracking of bone, even though conventional set-pieces are kept to a minimum.

A dramatic car chase stands out not only because it is expertly put together but because in an age of over reliance of green screen trickery, the filming of real cars on actual roads seems to be a dying art.

The soundtrack blends tracks from the likes of Kavinsky, College and Desire with Cliff Martinez‘s pulsating electronic score, creating a rich sonic backdrop which chimes in perfectly with the visuals.

This all provides the best musical backdrop to an LA crime movie since Heat (1995), where Michael Mann recruited Elliot Goldenthal to provide a dramatic score, whilst utilising invaluable contributions from Brian Eno, Michael Brook and Moby.

The film builds on the noble tradition of European directors filming crime movies in California: Point Blank (1967) and Bullit (1968) are obvious touchstones, but there is also a strong American influence of films such as The Driver (1978), To Live and Die in LA (1985) and Manhunter (1986).

This blending of European and American sensibilities is what makes Drive such an intoxicating mix: like the central character, it is stylish creation of few words but has a lasting impact on those who see it.

It is no wonder the audience at the Cannes premiere were beguiled by the fusing of transatlantic sensibilities which have fuelled the festival since its inception.

The question mark that hangs over the film is whether or not US distributor FilmDistrict can get people to go and see it: some may be put off by the flashes of violence but if art house and mainstream audiences keep an open mind, this could be a richly deserved hit.

Drive opens in the UK on September 23rd and in the US on September 16th

> Official Facebook page
> Reviews of Drive at Metacritic
> Reactions to Drive at Cannes 2011
> Excellent Cinema-Scope interview with Refn on the making of Drive

Cinema Reviews

Blue Valentine

The changes in a long-term relationship are examined with rare intimacy in this second feature from writer-director Derek Cianfrance.

Over the course of several years we see how a young couple, Dean (Ryan Gosling) and Cindy (Michelle Williams), fall in and out of love over a number of years.

Juxtaposing their initial, youthful courtship (shot on super 16mm) with their marital struggles (filmed on the Red One digital camera), it employs clever framing along side the contrasting visual palettes to convey how their lives have changed.

The narrative and visual design is impressive, conveying the passage of time and providing a highly effective counterpoint for the two stages of their relationship.

Co-written by Cianfrance, Cami Delavigne and Joey Curtis, the script manages to avoid the clunking clichés that can haunt mainstream relationship movies.

Not only does it contain telling details that reveal much about the characters, it also significantly leaves room for speculation as to what happened in the intervening years.

Cianfrance and DP Andrij Parekh also shoot scenes with a vivid sense of being in the room with these characters. At times the effect can be claustrophobic, but it heightens the drama without resorting to cheap theatrics.

But what really gives Blue Valentine added kick is the two lead performances: Gosling is a convincing as a genuinely decent man, whose lack of ambition and devotion to his young daughter (Faith Wladyka), make him a bad husband but a good father.

Williams in some ways has the harder role, as a frustrated wife pushing for change but finding herself increasingly isolated in her wants and desires. Together, they form a completely believable couple in both sections of the film.

The almost total lack of false beats in their scenes together seems like a product of Cianfrance giving his actors room to improvise and feel like awkward, real people instead of puppets controlled by a screenwriter.

One of the most astute elements of the film is the way in which it depicts the snowballing conflicts in a crumbling relationship, when innocent words and actions quickly become weapons seized upon by the frustrated parties.

There are other aspects to admire: an atmospheric score from Grizzly Bear, solid – if fleeting – supporting performances from John Doman, Mike Vogel and Ben Shenkman; and an exploration of class, which is rare in most American movies.

The considered pace and often raw emotions might prevent Blue Valentine from breaking out of the indie realm, but it has already garnered deserved praise on the festival circuit at Sundance and Cannes.

Coupled with strong awards season buzz, it marks a remarkable turnaround for Derek Cianfrance, who has persevered for years to follow up his first feature Brother Tied (1998).

The independent film world is currently in a state of crisis, with many films outside the studio ecosystem struggling to be financed or distributed, but the existence of this film is a heartening reminder that the indie flame can still burn brightly.

Blue Valentine opens in the UK on January 14th and is currently on limited release in the US.

> Official site
> Blue Valentine reviews at Metacritic
> Derek Cianfrance at the IMDb