DriveFilm genre is always an interesting topic of consideration, both from the spectator’s as well as the analytical perspectives.  The genre and its associated conventions are often unwittingly called upon to inform the spectator’s expectations for a film, even before it’s seen.  Genre conventions even have a strong influence on the subject matter.  But the most interesting thing about conventions are the negative spaces that surround them when they are removed from a genre film.  For instance, a filmmaker can create unique atmospheres by opting not to utilize a given convention – the absence of a convention can allude to itself by virtue of its absence.  Drive is an interesting case study for the action genre, or more specifically two of its subgenres: the getaway film and the driving film, for the manner in which it incorporates and omits various genre staple elements.

Most immediately striking about Drive [2011] is its distinctive use of dialogue, in particular by that of the main character.  Endemic of films such as those of the Fast and Furious franchise, lengthy sequences of exposition are often utilized in order to establish the central plot points, antagonisms and various other narrative dynamics.  Driver (Ryan Gosling), by contrast, speaks very little.  Much of what we are to know about him is conveyed by context of his behaviour or articulated by other characters.  This not only keeps the film narratively simple, but also forces the spectator to pay unique attention to the film’s montage in order to collect vital narrative elements.  This decision made by the filmmakers enables attention to be called to other, unexpected elements of the film.

Car chases from Driver's POV

The visual language of the film is intimate and methodical in pacing.  The oft utilized wide angle shots typically used to offer contrast to the spectator by showing a car speeding through an environment has been largely dropped in favour tighter angles, focusing on Driver.  This alters the overall pacing of the film by shifting the emphasis from the car, speeding through a course, to the character’s assessment of the environment.  We are allowed to see how he reacts to stimuli and are granted his perspective from behind the wheel.  This unique level of intimacy is utilized in other aspects of the film which make it unique in the getaway and driving genres as the emphasis is affixed to almost everything but the driving.

Ryan Gosling and Carey Mulligan

In particular, the films grisly portrayal of violence is given a rather jarring cinematic treatment, one that is often absent from counterpart films such as Fast & Furious and the more recent Need for Speed.  Boasting an R rating, whereas the latter two are PG-13, uniquely enables Drive to delve into an area that has hitherto gone unexplored, yet would seem to be an obvious consequence of the actions of the characters of these films: the utter carnage.

Driver looks more, speaks less

The horror that would obviously follow the finale events of Fast Five [2011] in which a huge safe is haphazardly dragged around Rio de Janeiro and would have to have maimed and killed scores of people simply does not fit within this film’s narrative.  Sex is the more obvious pairing for the fast cars of this film franchise.  But the more methodical pacing of Drive has enabled the out-of-car sequences to be shot in gruesome slow motion without seeming out of place.  This same technique when used in the Fast & Furious films is used to elaborate on an entirely different aspect, often that of a car accomplishing some great stunt and not to develop a sense of shock and horror.  There is a scene midway through Drive in which Blanche (Christine Hendricks) is shot point blank in the head by a shotgun and the consequences are every bit as horrific as one would imagine.

A low angle focusing on the hammer communicates wonders about Driver's psychology

This presentation style effectively serves as foil to these other films in almost all aspects – narratively, stylistically and culturally.  The cultural impact of the Fast & Furious films has largely been one of glamorization – fast cars, sex, and ambiguous, unscrupulous morality ending favourably for the characters.  Drive challenges this notion and posits that the actions committed in these films has to be anything but.  In other words, only unsavory horror can come from the damage done to the environments that films of these genres are set in.

Ryan Gosling and Bryan Cranston

Consequently, Drive is remarkably successful for its self-aware approach to its genre.  It has unique merit as foil to these other films.  While most distinctly not for the weak of stomach or those looking for an adrenaline rush, Drive has much to offer action fans, particularly food for thought for what is otherwise slammed as a genre absent of more cerebral characteristics.

Written by James Ness

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