Have you heard the tale of the Scorpion and the Frog? It goes something like this: One day, a scorpion asks a frog to be carried across the river. “But how do I know you won’t sting me?”, the frog asks, to which the scorpion replies, “Because if I do, I will die too.” So, the frog takes him, but the scorpion stings the frog halfway across the stream. “Why?”, asks the frog. “Because it is in my nature”, the scorpion says, before they both are submerged.
Remember my last blog post where I mentioned I miss out on a lot of must-see films for a variety of reasons? Yeah, well, one of those was 2011’s Drive which I heard about consistently since release and never got around to… Until now! Let’s dive into Drive.
No spoiler alert because I was the last person on Earth who could’ve been spoiled.
When your life orbits around the thing you do best, sometimes that becomes your identity. Drive follows Driver, a garage mechanic and Hollywood stuntdriver by day, clandestine getaway driver by night; He’s always in control no matter what wheel he’s behind. A wrench is thrown into this routine when he grows close to his neighbor, Irene (Carey Mulligan), and her son, Benicio (Kaden Leos). When Irene’s husband, Standard (Oscar Isaac), is released from prison, only to be shackled by debts accumulated while behind bars, Driver agrees to help settle the score to protect the only two people he has come to care about. When the decisive heist goes wrong, resulting in Standard’s death, Driver finds himself with a million dollars in mafia money and slowly losing his grip. Doing everything within his power to set matters straight, in the end, Driver must push away any chance of a life with Irene to make sure she’s safe forever.
This movie was like being on a roller coaster ride in the best way. Within the first five minutes I was on the edge of my seat, only to slowly fall back into it as Ryan Gosling’s serene portrayal of Driver made me feel as though I was staring at a picturesque piece of art; I would move between these two positions almost constantly throughout my viewing. I loved everything about this movie, and understand why it was so heavily praised and recommended even years after it lit up the silver screen.
“Chiaroscuro” refers to the art of light and darkness, and this film elevates that art thoroughly and thoughtfully. Every scene is lit with a subtle intention, providing dimension and directing attention to important details. In this way the film foreshadows and reveals truths without ever speaking them. The cinematographer masterfully used light combined with camera-work in ways that pull the viewer into the psychology of Driver. There is a great deal of silence in between action in this film, and within that silence lies a million details which tell half of the story. The credit for such storytelling, therefore, must be split between the script and what the cinematographer managed to fill in between every written moment.
The writing, however, is nothing to scoff at. Most of the characters don’t have their backgrounds exposed to us, yet we know who they are from every detail of what they say or do. Driver doesn’t even have a name yet we can pull so much from both his silence and those moments when he breaks it. We even understand his perception of himself from the jacket he nearly is always seen in. On the back is a scorpion, and we find out why when he tells the tale of the scorpion and the frog. Scorpions aren’t evil, they abide by their nature, and the Driver’s nature is to kill, or sting, those who threaten that which he wishes to protect. The antagonists are bad guys to be sure, but they don’t just go around cackling and being evil for no reason either. They are cogs in a machine of evil, and allow no risk when it comes to survival which is what puts Driver, Irene and Benicio in their sights.
I feel from these reviews I’m beginning to see a pattern and understand something about the best films. It’s something I have heard countless times and was aware of but never really stopped to observe and think about in the movies I like. What I’m talking about is how good movies show you details, they don’t tell you. The truths of the people and stories are pieced together; Driver repeatedly tells those he provided his getaway driving to that he doesn’t use guns, but in a moment of necessity he must kill an assailant with another’s shotgun. Right after, with his face covered in blood, we see how much this breaking of his own code shakes him to his core. It’s the addition of details which make for a truly rich film, not what we find out through one single medium. Drive is all about that: Using every tool at its disposal in tandem to enrich the world and characters within it.
BanditTree Rating: 9 out of 10 Gosling Smiles