Drive appears to be prompting a bit of conversation at the moment. The film premiered in Canne to a great response and the hype steadily built. Critical consensus seemed to be that it was a near masterpiece with style to burn and fantastic performances from all of it’s actors. Ryan Gosling’s associated rise to stardom, from Oscar nomination a couple of years ago for Half Nelson to critical success with Blue Valentine and popular success with films like Crazy Stupid Love, also helped Drive’s cause as it rode this wave of press.
Now that the film has been given a wider seen release we have seen that the film just doesn’t seem to connect with a large audience and there has been a growing contingent of critics raising questions about the films quality. Perhaps without the Cannes hype, had the early word been a little more muted, the film might have never been expected to be a hit and it would have found a small but dedicated following. Instead expectations seem to have been sky high.
Scott Mendelson of Mendelson’s Memos was one critic who felt the film offered little substance and called it “boring, uninteresting, and audience-insulting”. He goes on to say it plays “…to the barest adolescent fantasies in a manner befitting a high school short story.”
Mendelson’s review, along with others, prompted a discussion between Thomas Rogers, editor of Salon, and Andrew O’Hehir, film critic of Salon, “The Drive backlash: Too violent, too arty, or both?”.
I find it a fascinating situation as the film really crosses genre boundaries making it difficult to market. In addition, the films deliberate pacing and emphasis on tone and style make it less accessible than typical genre fare. I believe the hype, along with the marketing campaign which pushed its action/thriller elements, has been responsible for a lot of the backlash.
Personally I disagree with the critics who feel Ryan Gosling is presented in a heroic fashion and that the violence is excessive. I feel one of the films great strengths and the root of it’s interest is the fact that Gosling is so quickly reduced to a figure of horror. The violence assists in this process as it makes shockingly clear how terrifying he is. Far from being heroic, glamourous, or exciting it is disgusting and offputing. I believe the film is subverting traditional generic elements in order to question their very existence.
To my mind it is closer to Michael Haneke’s Funny Games than the “adolescent fantasies” of a “high school story”. Though many critics also dislike Funny Games and some feel it is similarly excessive. I appreciate both films for their commentary on the medium, I find them though provoking and challenging.