Friday, October 07, 2011

My hands are dirty. So are mine.


Ryan Gosling in a still from Drive

I enjoy the occasional teasers, tricks and treats that a filmmaker throws my way. And my latest double bill outing involving the Ryan Gosling vehicle Drive, and the Randeep Hooda trailblazer Saheb, Biwi aur Gangster, threw up quite a mixed bag of surprises. For a change, I am glad that the pleasant and unpleasant shocks were distributed fairly between both films. The following analysis will be concentrated on the former  and the latter will be dealt with in the next post.

Braving rush hour traffic and snarling motorists on a Monday evening, I drove to Drive, with two words hurtling through my mind – Ryan Gosling. This was the first Gosling feature I’d be witnessing in my cinematic chronology. It would feel nothing short of watching the Haley’s Comet. I had missed out on seeing his Blue Valentine, where he teamed up with the phenomenal Michelle Williams. I know, I know. The geeks are crying hoarse. But then, everybody deserves a shot at redemption.

And as I settled down in a comfy seat in good ol’ Sathyam, I braced myself for something truly remarkable as the opening credits appeared on the horizon. What lay before me was a smattering of shocking pink font in running hand, offset by an electronic/pop score. It took me back to the time when I used to harbor a fetish for film fonts.

Reminiscent of the font of movies like Cocktail, Beverly Hills Cop and Dirty Dancing, Drive opened up on a note that had me at hello. I am a slave to synthesized, ambient music and Gosling’s visage appearing from behind the wheels with a cold stare for company was more than I could take. The deliberately paced opening sequence lets us in on one major revelation – all is not as it seems in the movies. Arguably, Gosling’s character could be described as an uneasy cross between Gone in 60 Seconds’ Memphis Raynes (as played by Nicholas Cage in the updated version) and Deathproof’s Stuntman Mike (as played by Kurt Russell).

Ryan Gosling's eyes are bluer than his work overalls. Period.

Gosling’s protagonist, who we shall henceforth refer to as the 'Kid', tells us his agenda early on. He’s the guy who pilots the getaway car for any given heist/robbery/hold-up – provided the getaway is executed within a window of five minutes. As he says, “I am yours for five minutes.” Anything this side or that side of five minutes, he ceases to be yours and “you’re on your own, from then onwards.”

Fans of nocturnal thrillers and its greatest exponent – Michael Mann, might be nodding with a sense of self-importance at this point in time. And rightly so, for the signature night shots depicting the skyline of the city of angels are homage to the brilliance of Mann. You’ve seen it before in Heat, The Insider, Collateral and Miami Vice. And the five-second window offered by the Kid is a tip of the hat to Robert De Niro’s master thief in Heat, who lives by the mantra – “Don’t attach yourselves to anything from which you can’t walk away from in eight seconds flat, if you spot the heat around the corner.”

The establishment shots in the film try leading viewers into the seedy, murky landscape of Los Angeles. But if you’re expecting this to be one of those Crash Boom Bang styled car chase flicks where the good guys are clearly delineated from the bad guys, you’re in for a shock. This is a palpable, living, breathing LA, teeming with angels and monsters in equal measure.

Carey Mulligan in Drive

At the heart of this deliberately paced crime thriller is a subtle, and almost, tender romance that blooms between the Kid and his neighbor, played by the disarmingly diminutive, not to mention, devastatingly beautiful Carey Mulligan. She’s a single mom with an adorable son, who strikes it off with the Kid. Carey plays her part with an ounce of vulnerability and it’s hard not to fall in love with her. Gradually, the Kid develops a soft spot for his neighbor, whose husband is in prison for some minor misdemeanor.

Gosling’s character happens to be a man of few words. And I think it might be an artistic decision to have it that way. That’s because ‘his bluer than your work-overalls’ eyes speak volumes through unspoken glances. There are scenes in the film where Gosling and Mulligan exchange glances for extended durations with nary a word to speak. But who’s to complain – I enjoyed every second of those silent mental ruminations where the eyes only hinted at what the mind intended on seeing accomplished. Speaking of which, the soundtrack of the film deserves a special mention.

Ryan and Carey share a moment of togetherness

Cliff Martinez delivers a haunting score that allows such explorations into the human psyche a possibility. I was especially enamored by a certain sequence where a lesser movie would have devolved into the expected. But in the able custody of the lead pair, the scene manages to linger on and on, and form an indelible imprint on one’s memory. The pauses in this scene only aggravate the sexual tension tugging at Gosling’s and Mulligan’s characters. One of my friends who had watched this film in the theater told me how it took a while for the film to grow on him. But he was honest in his acceptance of the intriguing power and depth in Carey Mulligan's eyes. It seemed like a co-incidence when he remarked later that Carey appeared wise beyond her years, much like Michelle Williams (who I considered to be Carey's doppelganger).

Our conversation then veered off to another moment in the film that had me smiling and almost teary-eyed, when it played out on the screen. It was one where the Kid decides to take his neighbor and her son for a drive on an open stretch of road in an abandoned industrial zone. In the entire history of movie stunts, this has to be hands down, the sweetest dare ever. The glee of innocence reflected in the eyes of the mother and her child, who it can be easily argued, have never come close to an experience such as this has to be seen to be savored. I had gotten the worth of my money with this scene alone.
 
Care to strap in for a ride?

Now, it might seem necessary to introduce some of the other actors in the film – Albert Brooks, Ron Perlman and Christina Hendricks. But, I am not going to elaborate on what they bring to the table. They can do it for themselves. What I can assure you is this. The things they’ve done in this flick are things you’ve never seen them doing in their previous works. I run the completely unacceptable and unnecessary risk of spoiling things for you if I divulge anything further about their characters. And then, there’s also Mulligan’s husband who comes home on parole and transforms this fleeting love story into something utterly unexpected, just moments before the intermission.

Needless to say, this move hits you like a punch in the gut. And believe me, it hurts like hell. You will be left scratching your heads wondering what just passed you by and when things turned around in such an unpredictable manner. There are buildups and crescendos aplenty to keep your heart and pulse on the edge. You’ll find yourselves constantly surprised at the proceedings. And as you walk away from the theater, you’re going to experience an undying urge to go back in, and piece together the jagged nuggets of gold that were thrown at you. They might have injured you – but that doesn’t mean you are unwilling to endure them, the second time around.

I'd like to dedicate this post to the memory of Steve Jobs, who sadly bid adieu to all of us on the fateful day of October 5, 2011. As an avid filmgoer, I am only acutely aware of what we have lost with his passing. We will miss you, Steve.

This post is an entry to the Reel-Life Bloggers contest organized by wogma.com and reviewgang.com

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