Drive, the new Ryan Gosling film, whose director won at Cannes this year, is one of the most purely satisfying big screen experiences of this century - a movie so stylishly aware of its intertextual tire tracks, each shot, each scene, is writerly bliss. From the neon pink, garish titles, and robo-Moroder soundtrack, to the 80s-noir "erotic thriller" blue lighting and slat-shadows, this LA-set Car Opera is just Shane updated, by way of American Gigolo, Scarface, and To Live and Die In L.A. - in short, it is a Western updated via several layers of homage and pastiche.
Indeed, the major scenes are pure Shane - the monosyllabic outsider entering the endangered family of father, mother, and son, and, despite the love of the wife and son, heroically using his latent, concealed dark abilities (gun play, car play) to defeat the bad guys, sloping off mortally (?) wounded into the sunset, slouched on his horse/in his car. Even the toothpick is pure cowboy.
There is also a Gatsby ending (he drives to a green light; and earlier we have an Eyewear sign). But then, this movie is pure metatext - constantly reminding us that the hero is only a stunt double (down to grotesque mask) - and that this is a movie. Indeed, the motel scene is a jolt of Psycho, for the hell of it; just as Driver's side-kick grease-monkey is purely out of Kiss Me Deadly.
I loved it. I loved the set-up of the meet-cute, the romance by the fetid quasi-edenic dappled sewer pond; the sense of doom; the reversals of fortune; the leather gloves; the use of key actors from two of TV's best-ever shows, Breaking Bad, and Mad Men, and the cinematography by the man who gave us The Usual Suspects. Finally, though Gosling and Mulligan are excellent, the show is stolen by a soothingly sleazy Albert Brooks, in his least comic role to date. Indeed, the key to this film's manifest pleasures is that it resists irony, and comedy, and deploys itself with seriousness - unlike Tarantino, whose equally violent offerings are always mediated by comedy.
Finally, let us reflect on the title - 'Drive'. Immediately, one thinks of that Ur-80s song, by The Cars. "You can't go on/ Thinking nothing's wrong ..." One also thinks of what "drives" all the characters. Our anti-hero is a cypher, of course, though the blaring title song reminds us he wants to be a "hero" and a "real human being". All the villains and minor characters are driven by money - they don't have enough of it, and they want more; secondarily, they are each driven by a fear of being killed. Though there is a sexual background, decadent wallpaper, no sex is shown (just a kiss), and the sex drive is mainly in reverse (asexual). The Driver is as innocent as the other two in the film's holy trinity, of mother, son, and saviour - each is only capable of love. Indeed, Mulligan doesn't want the Standard, she wants a "Deluxe" model - a love supreme. The Driver, Gosling, hangs up his rather small-time low-rent dreams, for the love of a good woman, and the dream of a nuclear family (the same which haunts James Dean in Rebel Without A Cause, another car and knife slice of Americana); indeed, Gosling slouches in doorways like Dean/Hud/Ladd.