Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Top 41 Things I Love About Drive (that no one talks about)

Has a cooler American movie been made since Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive? Every frame of the movie oozes style, every note of sound is polished, everything about the movie is just… cool. By pure coincidence, I’m posting this list on the exact same day as the film’s American release four years ago. That’s four years of watching Ryan Gosling’s The Driver cruise around L.A., getting a feel for the streets, kicking ass and taking names and falling in love. Here are some things I love about one of America’s coolest films, that rarely get discussed.

The faint sound design in this shot. Whenever The Driver (Ryan Gosling) cruises by a street light, we hear a slight “swoosh” noise.

The slight push-in on The Driver’s face as he waits for the second robber. Great, subtle way to capture tension.

How he’s only using one hand to drive here.

The look the robbers share as The Driver tails a cop. Fucking priceless.

The fact that the opening scene takes a lot of geographic liberties with the streets of Los Angeles, but that doesn’t matter in the slightest. You’re locked into the tension.

The way the music and the police scanner cut out as the helicopter passes overhead, trying to find the hiding car.

The music swelling up as the Staples Center comes into view.

This background player (in the red and white shirt) crashing the camera as The Driver takes his jacket off.

The juke-step The Driver has with the cop.

Irene (Carey Mulligan) passing by in the parking garage. I missed that the first time.

The movie constantly defies expectations. The first time I saw this film, the theater let out an audible gasp at this shot.


“I got ya 500 more, huh. Course we split that.” And the finger point.

I love watching characters react to something off camera before we see it. You know he’s looking at Irene and her kid, you just don’t know why yet.

The little eyebrow raise The Driver gives Benicio as The Driver leaves the apartment.

Based on this shot, The Driver lives close to downtown, in MacArthur Park. But he says he works at a garage on Reseda Blvd., which is deep in the Valley. Like 22 miles from where he lives. For L.A., that’d be a brutal commute.

This villain shot.

The sun just barely peeking through center frame.

As grim and violent as Drive gets, this scene is one of the most angelic representations of Los Angeles I’ve ever seen in a movie. The sun, the smiles. And that music.

Irene encapsulating the day with, “That was good.”

I’m obsessed with background dialogue. That is, an exchange that happens off screen. When Shannon (Bryan Cranston) walks away from Bernie (Albert Brooks), to sell Nino (Ron Perlman) a car, you can barely hear Shannon say to Nino, “You know what, this car will even make you good lookin’.” To which Nino replies: “Oh, I’m already good lookin’, pal.”

The way the music doesn’t decrease in volume as Standard (Oscar Isaac) gives his speech. Usually a song will magically lower its level when a character is talking. Not here.

The despondency on Irene’s face at the party. Mulligan has such command over her emotional expression.

Again, defying expectations. The first time I saw this movie, I expected Standard to step to The Driver. But no, he thanks him for helping out, and walks away. Says everything about Standard that we need to know.

The cut-to-push-in shot of The Driver’s “How ‘bout this,” line delivery.

The Driver making sure Benicio is safe first.

The deep musical cord that strikes when Benicio hands The Driver the bullet.

I can’t recall seeing James Biberi in a movie before, but man, whatta face this guy has.

Standard’s confident strut into the pawn shop.

And the way he flips the OPEN/CLOSED sign.

The heightened sound design of the gun blast. They amped the shit out of that thing.

This expression of “Okay, relax, think, gain control.”

This slight smile is everything.

The insane rumbling sound design of the car engine after the elevator attack.

The look on Nino’s face as Bernie kills Cook. He has the same look of displeasure as if a dog just shit on a rug.

Oh, you know, just walking around a film set, clothes covered in blood, no big deal.

I love this shot. Nino is laughing his ass off, and the gal couldn’t give a possible shit.

“For the rest of your life, you’re going to be looking over your shoulder. I’m just telling you this because… I want you to know the truth.”

Death in shadow. What a ballsy photographical choice.

A final thought: since my first viewing of the film, I’ve always wondered why The Driver was often shot in the left side of the frame. Examples:

No, really, he’s almost always in the left:


And then, in the final few scenes of the film, that switches inexplicably. Very interesting.

UPDATE: Every Frame a Painting has a great video that partly explains the framing of Drive. Watch it here.


More “No One Talks About” Posts

47 comments:

  1. Shit, I need to see that film again. It's been years since I first saw it in the theaters and it's still in my mind. This is the film that proves that NWR is a genius and firmly establishes him as the filmmaker to follow. I still don't have this on DVD/Blu-Ray because if I want to get the film, I want to make sure it's with a shitload of extras. Please, this film needs to be on Criterion!

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    1. I don't buy DVDs/Blu-Rays anymore unless there are a ton extras as well. Just not worth it. I really wish Drive had a lot of extras, but it's still a damn solid flick!

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  2. I freaking love this movie! Even if it wasn't as action packed as I thought it would be, there is still so much to love about it. I also loved what you said about Carey Mulligan and her facial reactions at the party. That girl can say so much by saying so little. Even in the scene in Shame where she sings "New York, New York", she captures her character's broken dreams with the sole use of her eyes.

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    1. She's so subtle that the slightest variation in her facial movements changed everything. THAT'S why the "New York, New York" song works as well as it does in Shame. Ahh, whatta scene.

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  3. Terrific work here. Love these little details, especially the last one. I've only seen the film 3 or 4 times, but I completely missed that. I need to rewatch it.

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    1. Thanks man! This one is fun to revisit often. And I know how much you love that music!

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  4. I love this post. Excellent movie and you pointed out so many wonderful things about it.

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    1. Thanks Brittani! Really glad you liked it.

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  5. I really love this post. Love the details you pointed out here. Without these posts, I probably wouldn't rewatch any of these films for some time, so thanks for that. It has been much too long since I've seen Drive. Gosling, Mulligan (her eyes <3) and especially Brooks are superb, as is Amini's screenplay, but Refn, Martinez, the editing, and the cinematography are the standouts for me.

    I cannot wait for The Neon Demon.

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    1. Ohh I'm really excited for The Neon Demon too. I didn't love Only God Forgives, but I certainly appreciated it. SO glad you like these posts!!

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  6. I really need to watch this movie again now! Great post...I had to read it when I saw "Drive" in the title...it's one of my favorites :)

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    1. Thanks Courtney! This flick rocks, doesn't it? Super cool.

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  7. Your final thought makes me want to watch and analyze this to death! UGH! Better yet, I'll watch and YOU analyze and let me know why this is.

    Great work, as always!

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    1. Ha! Fair enough. I dunno man, but it's something I've always wondered about. I've shot a number of things and I can promise you that A LOT of thought went into The Driver's framing in this flick. Very, very deliberate photographical decisions being made there. But whyyyyyy?

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  8. Such a great film and so much better than OGF - they both didn't have much plot but at least Drive had enough to make us root and care for the ones we were watching. Brilliant post!

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    1. Thanks! Yeah, those last two Refn films didn't really care about plot, but I'm definitely into Drive's story.

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  9. Visually, the toothpick and the driver's scorpion jacket are what stand out for me, but you noticed so much more. I remember the opening had me hooked immediately, brilliant sequence. I've only seen Drive once, I imagine with all the detail here you've seen it multiple times.

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    1. I think I had seen it four times before this post. Then I sat down and paid close attention to it while writing this. Fun movie! Thanks for reading/commenting!

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  10. I love that you noticed the Driver always being in the left of the frame. If you haven't seen it, Every Frame A Painting has a great video about how the Quadrant system is used in Drive.

    People reacting to things off camera is something that really hits me whenever I watch this one.

    Mulligan and Isaac are nice here but their relationship is more entertaining in Inside Llewyn Davis haha.

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    1. That Every Frame A Painting vid is incredible, thanks for telling me about it! I love Mulligan and Isaac in Inside Llewyn Davis. "Don't tell Jim... obviously."

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  11. This is one movie I just don't get at all, despite almost everyone's praise for it. It just left me cold.

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    1. Fair enough, but the criticism of "it left me cold" is very curious to me. Many of my favorite films leave me cold. They're bleak, morose, honest. I'm talking about films by Bergman, Kieslowski, Audiard, and others. I'm not saying Drive is as good as films by those guys, but being left cold isn't necessarily a bad thing to me, you know?

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  12. I always love these posts, but this one flat out blew me away with that last thing. I love the movie, one of the best that year in my opinion, but it never occurred to me that The Driver was always on the left, or that it switched. Keen eye, my friend. Makes me want to watch it again.

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    1. Thanks buddy! That updated link to the Every Frame a Painting video helps explains things a bit. So glad you like these posts!

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  13. The point of the left-right framing is that shows an overcome. The driver is the bad guy that wants to be good but he has to do something. At the end when he leaves the money and deals the villain the song A Real Hero plays to show that he overcomes his status of bad guy and becomes a hero. At least that's how I interpret it. That's so much to look into. The first few times I watched the movie it felt slow but there are so many details about this film that I love. This would be probably my #1 for my 2010s list.

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    1. Very interesting theory. The Every Frame a Painting video supports your theory a bit. Check it out if you get a chance.

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    1. Great vid. Thanks for telling me about it.

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  15. Wow, impressive break down. This film gives me the chills. Need to re-watch it with this in mind.

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  16. UGH how did I miss this?! I am so out of touch with blogging these days, I miss gold like this. YES this is the coolest movies in the recent years and god I love every single point you made here. Especially the left-right thing. Very interesting.

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    1. So glad you like the post! I get out of touch with blogging too - all good!

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  17. I need to rewatch Drive soon! Amazing post. I never realized about that swoosh noise or the sun on the center frame. Awesome catches. Funny that I did also gasp when I saw him on that cop uniform. The shot on the window with the MacArthur Park is one of my favorites. And I had that image of Nino stuck in my mind since I watched it. I think probably due to the way that scene is created with the moving song on the background and because Ron Perlman’s laugh is quite a thing of its own, and it reminds me of watching him on Sons of Anarchy laughing at the head of the club's table. Really sad he didn’t get any award for that performance because the show wasn’t quite award-friendly.

    Last weekend I saw Bronson for the first time and I was mesmerized by the imagery, the soundtrack and Tom Hardy’s terrific performance. Visually it reminded me a lot of Kubrick and it was the only film I have left to watch from Winding Refn. Have you seen his early films? I especially liked the first Pusher and Valhalla was hypnotic too. Can’t wait to see his next project.

    Oh and I saw Nightcrawler last night, finally, and then I wondered if you’ve written about it and I just saw your great post and the mention about the two actresses on Wait, what a coincidence! I was wondering, because I saw it recently too, if you’ve watched the second season of True Detective. Don’t know why it made me thought of you… probably because of the L.A. noir cinematography that also reminded me of Drive and of Michael Mann’s first films.

    Oh and loved your post about songs and films. I thought about The National's About Today used on The Warrior ending.

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    1. Hey there, great to hear from you! So happy you like this post 

      I have seen most of Refn’s work. I liked Bronson a lot the first time, but it doesn’t really hold up for me now.

      Isn’t Nightcrawler cool? Carolyn, who plays one of the people who works at the news station (she says the line, “There isn’t a baby in there is there?”)… she was the star of my music video, Mint Green if you’re interested! http://www.andsoitbeginsfilms.com/2015/06/music-video-mint-green.html

      I’m one of the few people who loved the second season of True Detective. Farrell’s binge and the orgy mansion with McAdams… those were remarkable set pieces. And that fucking salute Farrell shared with his son in the final episode… wow.

      You know how I feel about Warrior’s use of “About Today”… the best. Unmatched.

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    2. Nightcrawler is quite amazing, one of the most special things I've seen in a while. I was looking for other things from the director, and I just saw it was his debut!

      I've just seen the music video. She's flawless, and I love how you have filmed her. There was something surreal about the way she moved, even how her hair moved, that made even more tragic the fact that she is not really there. And Micah Parker is phenomenal! He made me emotional on the first scenes and when he hold the baby on his arms. Of course, a great job from the director to capture all this! So congrats on your first video. I didn't know about Shapiro but I would check out his music.

      And how cool is it that you also liked True Detective? I’m one of the few people who loved it too! haha I hope that it would become a cult thing on the future. I loved those scenes you've mentioned… Farrell devastated me during that binge scene and when he called his wife, and on the goodbye to his kid... he had really superb moments, he was so raw and real I loved him. And McAdams was really great too. The orgy scene was so suffocating, great stuff. The whole series had a Twin Peaks vibe that I also loved.

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    3. Thanks so much for your kind words about Mint Green! You've always "gotten" my work, which is so nice. Really glad you enjoyed it.

      Also great that you loved the second season of True Detective. I guess Vaughn's monologues made the show an easy target, but I really like it. I think it has more rewatchability than the first season. But that's probably just me.

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  18. Oh man, what a fantastic write up. Drive has quickly become one of my all time favorite movies and i have already seen it countless times. It's one of those movies i just can't get sick of. The cinematography and soundtrack are just so perfect. Hell, everything is perfect. This pointed out some things i hadn't noticed yet either so now i need to watch it again even though it's just a few weeks since the last time i saw it.

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    1. Thanks! So glad you like the post. It was a damn fun film to write about.

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    2. PLEASE, PLEASE READ "DRIVE" critic by L. Ron Mexico. (Ruthless Reviews)

      You will piss yourself laughing! My neck hurts from all the nodding I did in agreement!

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    3. Haha okay I'll look it up soon. Thanks!

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  19. Am I being censored? None of my recent comments appear.

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    1. For posts more than 10 days old, comments do not appear until I approve them. I literally receive hundreds of spam comments on the this a day, 90% of which are on older posts. So instead of having to go through and delete each one, I simply wait and approve the comments that are legit. Like yours, which I do appreciate.

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  20. Thanks, Alex.

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  21. Love this film, thanks for the article. Am planning to make a theatre play out of it.

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    1. Thanks for reading! And good luck with your play. That is a great idea!

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  22. My opinion on the character framing in the shots (the left or right thing) is that the person in control, the person with power, is always on the right.

    One of my favorite examples of this is in the opening scene of Inglourious Basterds, where the dairy farmer starts out on the right side of the frame, but then it transitions to Hans Landa as he starts talking about his reputation as The Jew Hunter.

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    1. Oh so you think right-framing is a control thing for all movies, not just Drive? That's really interesting. Have to think about that...

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