Anticipation: 3/5 Refn’s Valhalla Rising was weirdly fun, but…
Final Verdict: 5/5 Drive is Refn’s masterpiece.
At the beginning of the 1990’s, a wave of crime films took over the cinematic world and provided a much needed breath of fresh air after the excessively over the top 80’s pictures. Can we equate this shift towards grittiness as the cinematic equivalent of music’s grunge period? Perhaps. Directors such as Quentin Tarantino, Guy Ritchie, Nicolas Winding Refn, The Coen Brothers, Mathieu Kassovitz, Steven Soderbergh, Abel Ferrara, and even Luc Besson, to a certain extent, were following in the footsteps of their influences, namely Martin Scorsese, Sam Peckinpah, Brian De Palma, with slight nods to Stanley Kubrick.
One of the main characteristics of the 90’s wave of young directors is: the violence. So much fantastic, theatrical violence! Reservoir Dogs’ ear cutting scene… Or the famous gimp scene from Pulp Fiction… Pusher‘s lamp wire electrocution… Fargo‘s Steve Buscemi being ground by a wood chipper… Perhaps the 90’s had its own excess, but it took its cues from the violence of 70’s films such as Taxi Driver, Straw Dogs, Clockwork Orange, Deliverance etc.
Danish filmmaker Nicolas Winding Refn’s films are drenched in Kubrick-style atmospherics and the graphic violence of Scorsese. His first film Pusher, in voyeuristic fashion, shows a life of petty crime in the drug business. Although it took him two more Pusher films and the lacklustre Fear X to really showcase his talent, it wasn’t until 2008’s Bronson that Refn’s, and Tom Hardy’s for that matter, abilities and prowess were cemented. 2009’s Valhalla Rising, what Refn described as his Viking Science Fiction film, was met with mixed reviews, but was worth the viewing if you are a fan of Kubrickian qualities and tones. But it was 2011’s Drive , that shot Refn into the big leagues. Starring Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan, Bryan Cranston, Christina Hendricks, Albert Brooks, Oscar Isaac, and Ron Pearlman, Drive was nominated for the Palme d’or at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival and Refn took home the Prize for Best Director.
Drive is Refn’s contribution to the reemergence of cinematic adaptations of fairy tales. Fairy tale re-imaginings have been pervasive in the last few years, but especially in 2012. During that year, cinemas were taken over by two versions of Snow White, Hansel & Gretel, Red Riding Hood, Jack the Giant Killer, Sleeping Beauty, Beastly (a modernized version of Beauty and the Beast), Rise of the Guardians and the list goes on. Although most of these modern adaptations tend toward the more grim aspects of classic fairy tales, they do not offer any new insight as to what happens to the characters after they apparently live “happily ever after.” Subtly exploring the narrative possibilities fairy tales offer, Drive sets itself in the “after” portion of those rather vague yet timeless words. What happens if the princess was saved by the wrong prince? What happens when the right one comes along and she is in a position where she must choose between loyalty and love? What happens when the lives of the wrong prince and the right prince intersect? Those questions are at the foundation of Drive.
In true postmodern fashion, Drive blends six genres together: the fairy tale, the western, the animal fable, the crime/gangster and the car chase films, all wrapped inside a suspense/thriller.
Be sure to catch Refn’s The Neon Demon out in theatres on June 24th 2016