Drive ★★★★½

Against the grain of dystopic claims
Not the thoughts your actions entertain
And you have proved to be
A real human being and a real hero

Nicolas Winding Refn’s modern-day fairy tale, Drive, is a deft explosion of visual cinema that is unhurriedly stylish and boldly revels in the ultra-violence of criminality and menace. The film drips in gorgeous neon hues and coupled with Cliff Martinez's pulsing dreamy synth score, builds a trance-like atmosphere that bursts with euphoric exuberance.

Reframing the familiar 80s B-movie action plot, Refn injects a refreshing dosage of arthouse and pop-art sensibilities that cleverly subvert expectations of trope and character. Ryan Gosling’s enigmatic anti-hero is a stuntman who moonlights as a getaway driver for criminals. He excels at what he does but wants to be more. And after brief but meaningful encounters with Irene and her son, Benicio, Driver realizes he has a chance to leave his life of crime behind and be the man he wants to be. But in this pursuit, Driver has to embrace his inner nature as a tool for violence, posing thoughtful questions about morality and whether people can truly change beyond their nature.

Some have suggested the abundance of style in Drive as perhaps a hindrance to substance. I think that when form is pressed to its limits, the form itself becomes content. And similarly when aesthetics is pressed to its limits, aesthetics itself becomes the substance. The kinetic neon-scape in Drive is undoubtedly alluring but is undercut by the shocking bouts of violence. Refn is perhaps simultaneously celebrating pulp mythology and criminal chivalry while airing the brutality found within cycles of ultra-violence through his signature surreal and somewhat gratuitous style. In this case, the style doesn't enhance the point, it is the point.

Drive is an exercise in violent romanticism that refuses to shy away from the horrors of criminality; it daringly chooses to accentuate the beauty within. Its hypnotic style and unrelenting ferocity elevate it far beyond its B-movie action plot as an introspective psychological deconstruction of the familiar existential hero.

A perfect midnight film to end a hot summer night. 🌃

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