Friday, 21 October 2011


Nicolas Winding Refn, 2011
BBFC rating: 18

Like Taxi Driver, which is clearly a source of inspiration for this movie, Drive follows a man of quiet violence motoring around the streets, resolutely following his own unusual moral code, unaccountably putting all his eggs into the basket of a woman he barely knows but with whom he has a relationship of semirequited love. Gosling's unnamed character is like a cross between Travis Bickle and Ryan from The O.C., handsomely prowling Los Angeles in his heavy boots and gold bubble jacket. His journey is filmed in strikingly framed shots with artificial lighting (apparently) from mundane sources - strip lights, indoor lamps - that somehow manages to look mystical, transcendental at times. There are scenes of brutal, up-close violence which Mark Kermode likened to scenes from Gaspar Noé movies: certainly they bear some resemblance to the early death-by-fire-extinguisher section of Irreversible or the repeated car crash and aftermath segments of Enter the Void. But where Noé keeps the camera directly on the action, Refn's shots are briefer and more oblique. In other words, Drive is nowhere near as difficult to watch as the Noé comparison would suggest.

Having recently spent time driving in and around LA, I found the landscape gave me the excitement of vague familiarity and, frankly, I would have been happy just watching the scenes shot from our hero's bucket seat for minutes at a time. Fortunately for everyone else, none of these sections last long except in the less prosaic sequences where Gosling races and hides from the pursuing police like a naughty kitten intent on staying out after dark. The action builds, swells and breaks with a natural rhythm over the course of its 100 minutes, as its characters cross and backstab each other while the stakes rise along with the body count.

The only minor problem with Drive is that it's shot digitally, which means it suffers from the same distracting pixellation artefacts as other digital films. Of course that won't matter for the home video market (unless you've got a 15-foot tellly). But this was the only negative thing I could think of about Drive. It's The Fast and the Furious with guts, balls and acting; Taxi Driver plus Death Proof plus tension. Unmissable.

Picture credit: Pierrot Neron. Picture appropriated from the facebook fan page, which includes other such posters designed by the general public.

Sunday, 2 October 2011

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy

Tomas Alfredson, 2011
BBFC rating: 15

I would never have looked any further than the title of this film had I not heard the hype, and found out it was directed by Tomas Alfredson (who turned a mediocre pulp novel into a masterpiece with Let the Right One In). It just sounds too silly. But I was bowled over by Alfredson's involvement and the rave reviews it's been receiving, and went for it. I found myself rather disappointed. It has the singular, atmospheric feel and look that Let the Right One In had, albeit here it's miserable, smoky, 1970s London rather than white, harsh Swedish suburbia. Unfortunately - and I realise this is more likely to be my fault than the film's - the plot was very difficult to follow, largely because there were so many characters and so little time in which to learn their names. Which military intelligence bod has sold them out to the Russians? It's very hard to tell when you can't put the hints about characters together because you can't remember which one is which. So while it's not boring, it is confusing, and seems longer than necessary. Or maybe it's just that I just would have preferred to see Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Vampire.