Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Drive - What's Going On?

A man must have a code. Omar wouldn't point no gun on no citizen who wasn't in the game. Neil McCauley would not attach himself to anything that he couldn't walk out on in 30 seconds flat if he felt the heat around the corner. The Driver in Drive would be available to whoever hired him for 5 minutes, no matter what happened in that period of time. But either side of it he is off the clock.

As is often the case, however, a woman throws a spanner in the works; the code is threatened.

The woman never hires Driver, but the central job in the film is one he is doing for her and her young son. At the beginning of the film, Driver's code operates in the context of an independent life - a life where he has to care about no one but himself. Those five minutes are the only time of interaction between him and the people he is working for. After that, he is as good as dead to them, and them to him. There is a scene where an old "employer" runs into Driver at a diner, and the employer starts talking about the old job and the possibility of another one. Driver aggressively enforces his code - the five minutes of availability were up long ago, and if the guy doesn't leave him alone then he's going to get his teeth kicked in.

And yet there is this woman and her son who need his help and are completely unaware of it; who need more than five minutes. The tension of the film lies in watching Driver's code begin to crack. The carefree life that he can live with such regiment is thrown into turmoil by meaningful relationships.

That all of this is played out with almost Terrence Malick levels of dialogue is really quite impressive to behold. The atmosphere is simmering, the action intense. Though on the surface it seems the relationship between a man and a woman is the central component, this is not necessarily the thing you end up caring for. The film doesn't leave you rooting for the two leads to get together amidst forces that pull them apart. In fact, the film quite possibly shows Driver spending as much time with her son as with her, and he says almost nothing to either of them.

So what do you end up caring about? The safety of the woman and her son is one thing, though even that is marginal. What ultimately matters is the life of the driver. The word "existential" has been used to describe the movie. His existence as subject is what matters. We see the film through his eyes. As the all-important heist goes down, we are in the car with him, waiting, seeing, feeling. And as the action comes to a crescendo, we want only for him to survive. 

His code is designed to keep him alive. But what happens to him when those five minutes are not long enough to get the job done?

This is a very good film with an exquisite sound track. It is not pleasant viewing, but it is compelling. It would hardly be high praise to say that it's the best film I've seen in 2012, but I will say this: it will take something quite brilliant to better it.

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