The crowd at the Palais couldn't stop clapping Friday night for Nicolas Winding Refn's Drive. At one point the young filmmaker kissed his star, Ryan Gosling, who breaks out in a Steve McQueen-style action role as a stuntman and getaway driver who is in complete control: until he allows himself to be entrapped by a young neighbor (Carey Mulligan) and her son.
In my video interview on the plage at Cannes (below), Gosling talks about bringing Refn on the movie after seeing Valhalla Rising, how he wanted to do an action role but only one like this (adapted by Hossein Amini from James Sallis's novel), and kissing Mulligan in the movie's most brilliant scene, in an elevator, before turning into a head-bashing "werewolf." (Gosling and Refn solicited tips on how to bash heads from Irreversible's Gaspar Noe). The movie wouldn't have happened at all, says Gosling, if REO Speedwagon hadn't popped onto the radio as he drove non-driver Refn home from a bad meeting. Suddenly both men saw the film they wanted to make about a silent man driving around L.A. at night listening to great music.
Drive is a lean, spare, well-photographed, disciplined, almost dialogue-free speedball of a movie that combines stylish action, romance, and exhilarating, gut-wrenching violence. Euro-sharp, it pays homage to the best noir actioners of Walter Hill (see The Driver clip below) and James Frankenheimer, and boasts strong support from Bryan Cranston and Albert Brooks. (The studio wanted Alan Arkin, but he passed.) Also below: Cannes reviews–mostly raves.
Refn's emotion is understandable: it was Gosling who wanted him to direct what was once a $60-million Universal project. But when the studio put it in turnaround, producer Marc Platt immediately took the package and set it up with foreign financing kicked off by Bold Films and Odd Lot Entertainment. FilmDistrict, which acquired the $13-million film for the U.S., will open it September 16.
At the after-party on a rooftop high above the old town, the moon shimmering on the marina below, Platt (who brought Russian director Timur Bekmambetov onto Wanted) admitted that being nimble like this is necessary these days, when the studios just aren't making that many mid-range non-tentpole movies.
Wild Bunch's Vincent Maraval was at the party with Luke Evans (Tamara Drewe), who will star in Refn's next film, Only God Forgives, starring Kristin Scott Thomas as Evans' mother, to be shot in Bangkok, Thailand for nine weeks. Set in a brutal criminal Thai boxing/heroin-running milieu, more of Refn's trademark violence is inevitable.
"judging by his utterly compelling performance in the thriller actioner, Gosling may become Hollywood’s new full-time action hero. God knows the genre’s reliable stars of the past two decades are getting too old and cranky…That most of the characters are played by eccentric but serious actors makes them all the more appealing–and elevate the stature of the picture, which is really an unabashedly genre item…Drive is defined by a visual strategy that combines the conventions of trashy B-level Hollywood actioners as well as those of European art films.""
Stephanie Zacharek, Movieline:
"Drive not only met my hopes; it charged way over the speed limit, partly because it’s an unapologetically commercial picture that defies all the current trends in mainstream action filmmaking…Refn doesn’t pretend to have invented any of this stuff; his movie is 90 percent unapologetic homage, and he knows how to recombine familiar elements in a way that feels fresh and exciting…Gosling, in particular, is a joy to watch. He walks the tightrope between being minimalist and mannered. His Driver is all about sharp reflexes and meaningful eye contact, and he has a jazz musician’s ear for language — he knows everything cooler when it’s just a hair behind the beat."
Xan Brooks, The Guardian:
"Directed with savvy aplomb by the Danish film-maker Nicolas Winding Refn, this plays out under cloudy LA skies and thrums to a narcotic synth-pop soundtrack as it rides shotgun alongside an imperilled Hollywood stuntman. Buckle up; it's quite a ride."
Todd McCarthy, THR:
"A spasmodically violent, creatively cast and off-center fast-cars-and-crime drama, Drive belongs to a rarified genre subset of stripped down, semi-arty and quasi-existentialist action films that includes Point Blank, Bullitt and The Driver. With Ryan Gosling ably incarnating a pent-up man of few words who goes to great lengths to make one positive gesture in a rotten world, Danish wunderkind Nicolas Winding Refn has fashioned an atmospheric and engaging glorified potboiler that nonetheless seems powered by a half-empty creative tank."
Eric Kohn, indieWIRE:
"Combing a memorably gritty Ryan Gosling performance with the breakneck tempo of the getaway cars his character handles for hire, Refn churns out a hyperactive love letter to road rage with unapologetic glee. It’s a total blast…Mulligan looks appropriately spellbound by Gosling’s presence, but she’s basically a prop with the sole function of reacting to his masculine savior. That’s understandable. He’s a hilarious conceit whose entire mold culls from macho archetypes, a man of few words with the mechanical ability to always keep his eye on the prize."
Kevin Jagernauth, The Playlist:
"if you’ve grown tired of watching Gosling suffer, Christ-like, for our sins in a series of indie dramas like Half Nelson, Lars and the Real Girl and Blue Valentine, then watching him, for example, pulverize a man’s skull with his foot will prove remarkably invigorating…Drive works as a great demonstration of how, when there’s true talent behind the camera, entertainment and art are not enemies but allies."
Refn's Drive trailer:
And the master he studied, Walter Hill: