I’ve rarely enjoyed a film as much as I enjoyed ‘Drive’.
Is it down to Ryan Gosling’s beauty? Yes. Is it down to the taut writing, the 80′s stylings which magically fit perfectly well into the present day? Yes, yes. What got me above all though was just how perfect a noir thriller this was, fulfilling all the conventions with grace, attitude and dark humour. The scenes of ultra violence will without question offend some (I was genuinely shocked twice in this film, and I’m hard to shock), but I loved every minute of it; as far as I’m concerned it was note perfect.
Car mechanic Gosling works part-time as a film stunt driver, but at night he acts as getaway driver for criminals. It’s easy money for someone emotionally detached from the world around him, but his priorities change when he falls in love with his neighbour Carey Mulligan, single parenting while her husband is in jail, and the two of them enjoy a brief period of happy ‘family’ life. Enter her husband Oscar Isaac, free and contrite, but in hock to gangsters he owes protection money to for keeping him alive in jail. With Mulligan and son Kaden Leos under threat Gosling joins him on the heist he’s being blackmailed into holding, to ensure their safety. But it all goes horribly, violently wrong.
Rooted firmly in pulp noir territory the ending is never in doubt (and no that’s not a spoiler), but director Nicolas Winding Refn has you rooting for the stunt-driver-with-no-name (toothpic permanently in mouth and everything) to defeat villainous Ron Perlman (chewing every single scene he’s in right up) and Albert Brooks, who delivers such an accomplished performance as a villain you’re left wondering what he was doing wasting a career in comedy. Gosling may be a crook but is without doubt the hero, and the tension in this dichotomy gives the film its energy (and the actor has no difficulty at all balancing his character’s criminality and heroism). But every performance is sublime, from Mulligan’s bad boy magnet single mother, to Gosling’s likeable but desperate boss Bryan Cranston, through to Gosling himself, owning the screen with just a look more convincingly than anyone since Clint Eastwood; this really is a classic in the making.
Screenwriter Hossein Amini delivers a highly emotional and challenging film by steadfastly refusing to adhere to a single Hollywood convention – it’s an intelligent film, which presumes its audience has a brain and wants to use it. Unashamedly minimalist from start to finish, with only sparse bursts of dialogue, the moments of extreme violence (which those fazed by that sort of thing should consider before watching) carry disproportionate weight because Refn and Amini make them so unexpected. It’s proof that thoughtful, old fashioned storytelling still very much has a place in modern cinema; even the car chases which happen service the story rather than the other way around. In a fair world it would win a clutch of Oscars, but what it will (rightly) do is propel Gosling and Mulligan right to the top of the ‘A’ list. More like this please, a lot more.
Director Ridley Scott and Russell Crowe’s last collaboration was the multi-award-winning ‘Gladiator’, which I admit I really didn’t care much for, so I came to their ‘Robin Hood’ remake with trepidation. And in all honesty I really liked it – it’s a 2 1/2 hour epic, with a surprisingly strong script, some funny dialogue (some terrible dialogue too) and intelligent direction; it’s highly entertaining too. Of course it’s helped by some knockout performances – Crowe hogs the screen without much effort with his Robin (now Longstride), but he’s more than matched by the outstanding Cate Blanchett as Maid Marion (now Marion Loxley). I’ll grant that noone tries to reinvent the wheel – why American William Hurt was cast as William Marshal is a complete mystery, and Crowe never strays too far from his trademark gruff persona, but somehow it all works. It’s a film which should either have been a complete retread or be completely dark and brooding, but Scott infuses his rebooted Hood drama with considerable charm, despite its length.
Robin Longstride starts the film fighting the French under King Richard (Danny Huston), on the return from the Crusades. Demoralised by their army’s brutality and excess, Longstride and his ‘merry’ friends return to England after Richard’s assassination, promising also-assassinated Sir Robert Loxley (Douglas Hodge) to return his sword to his father. Meanwhile his assassin Sir Godfrey (Mark Strong, now thoroughly Alan Rickman-ised by the film world) plays both the English the French off against each other, in the hope of power for himself following a successful French invasion. It’s a long story, hinging around Longstride’s adoption of Loxley’s identity in order to prevent Blanchett from having her property seized by the Crown. Of course the two end up together, of course Robin starts to battle injustice by the Crown, of course King John enters the fray, and of course there’s a climactic showdown on the beaches (mystifyingly bloodless at that) in which the good guys win and the bad guys lose. Or do they…?
It’s probably too long, the beach landing shamelessly (and needlessly) evokes ‘Saving Private Ryan’s Normandy landings, and the initial story set-up is probably far too involved (although the ending marks the film as an opening salvo in a new franchise attempt) but screenwriter Brian Helgeland weaves an involving yarn despite the script’s occasional excesses. It’s a welcome change under a director normally far better at delivering set pieces than a strong narrative. And Oscar Isaac positively commands the screen as a thoroughly villainous (and often hilarious, yet never crossing the line into pantomime) King John, chewing every scene he’s in for all it’s worth, his character never quite playing his hand until the final act. Those expecting a traditional Robin vs Sheriff (Matthew Macfadyen) romp will have to wait until the inevitable sequel, and those expecting more accent consistency than Prince of Thieves will be similarly (though not so thoroughly) disappointed, but this is a good start for ‘new’ Robin. We’ve had ‘Batman Begins’, now so does Robin.