Nov

29

 A film that cannot be any hue other than noir attaches our attention because it is iconic, laconic and mesmeric. In initial outline, it resembles very closely the 1978 suspenser starring a sexy, silent, bruised-looking Ryan O'Neal before the cheeseburgers set in, THE DRIVER. DRIVE is a Hollywood stunt guy who freelances as a moonlighting wheelman. It need not be added that a contract is out on him after money goes missing and a heist goes very awry.

In both, a nameless driver is the getaway designee for petty criminals escaping their penny-ante gigs. In both, the escape chases and wild rides are breath-taking, split-second exercises in adroit car-handling. The criminals hardly count in the backseats, because the stars of each of these scenes are the driver and the automobile, both close to anonymous and incognito for being so average-looking. In each film, the protagonist barely says a word throughout, instantly picks the locks of strange cars for his getaways, then abandons them, and has a difficult time (much as one expects) with letting down his guard.

While the film gripped the SRO audience from start to weary, brutalized finish, not everyone agrees the film ought to be among the finalists for the 10 best films of 2011.

My escort for the evening, a powerful male, was turned off to the excessive blood and gore, as were a number of MoMA viewers, all NYC sophisticates, and even I, more aware (I knew what was coming, as I had spoken to people who had seen it, and had read 5 reviews, including the definitive assessment in The New Yorker), was also of the opinion that the film could have evoked a better response had the camera discreetly turned away from all that spurtive blood and mashed cerebellar material.

But there seems to be more than just a brief-candle film entertainment here. The film is sort of a Clint Eastwood homage, an opera buffa of silent strong male vs. the forces of entropy arrayed against l'homme humaine et juste. The color palette is that of Kubrick's "Eyes Wide Shut." Inky blues, flashing white glints, umbers, yellow, red, washed out macadam grey. It offered very active silent spaces, a throbbing, building suspense missing in most films, and the tabula rasa of Ryan Gosling's interior turbulent though smoldering lava, unruffled exterior. Carey Mulligan is enchanting, more through expressive facial expressions than through her few words. The lush Christina Hendricks, so vavavavoom in TV's Mad Men, is here a moll seen for not long enough. Brilliant as a superficially gemutliche but merciless villain, Albert Brooks turned his comic-guy persona totally on its curly-haired ear. He is a nuanced portrait of a guy in a financial punch, plus a deftly handled shiv when necessary. Heavy-browed Ron Perlman is a furrowed presence as a questionable pizza store proprietor, and you are glad to not see too much of him.

DRIVE evoked, for me, the balletic rigor of Coppola's first "Godfather," as the 'family' extinctions and wastings swelled with the strains of operatic arias Don Corleone/Al Pacino was conveniently viewing as his assigns carried out his orders: Punish those who run afoul of his unquestioned godfather mandates.

As for the grue content, perhaps those who question its ubiquity in this engrossing film have it right: Spilling blood is also a spiritual tragedy. In the biblical literature:

Key hadam hoo hanefesh: Because in the blood is the soul.


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