Ryan Gosling in the "Neon" Noir, Drive
Noir or Neo-Noir, what’s the big difference? Well, a lot more than just color or black and white photography. But the key element of a mysterious, yet sympathetic man caught up in events beyond his control is an essential factor in either case. In Ryan Gosling’s new film, Drive the young actor fulfills the personification of this description and demonstrates a more mature, and nuanced approach to his craft as he takes on his most challenging role to date. I don’t think it’s too much to say that Gosling in Drive can be compared favorably to Robert Mitchum in Out of the Past and Richard Gere in American Gigolo. In short, Gosling is Noir’s latest troubled hero. I saw Drive at this year’s Los Angeles Film Festival, and I was very impressed. Not only does the film offer an amazing cast in roles as they have never been seen, but it offers a modern spin on a dated genre. I’m not talking about the heist film, but the Noir, or more specifically, the Neo-Noir. Although the previews would have you believe otherwise, the reality is that anyone going into Drive expecting an action packed heist film full of car chases and violence will be woefully disappointed.
Last week I was part of a roundtable interview with Gosling who is currently promoting Drive that opens today, Friday September 16th. Drive is a suspenseful crime drama, but has so much more to offer than the action packed previews would suggest. Gosling himself proves to have a lot more going on than anyone might expect from a lean, blonde, and blue-eyed leading man. At the roundtable the young star talked about a variety of topics including his role in Drive (in front of and behind the scenes), and what he hopes to be doing just a little bit down the road from now. His goals for continued work behind the lens may surprise you.
The half hour discussion took place at the Four Seasons Hotel in Beverly Hills, and it was pretty damn impressive – a good sign the studio believes in this project. I suppose I’ve been sheltered, but I really like the way the Four Seasons hosts a roundtable. There were two rooms just for the press, one with a TV playing select highlights from Drive and the other lined with a massive drink station complete with the largest shelving unit of sodas I’ve ever seen outside of a grocery store. There was also a third room with a luncheon spread suitable for a cocktail reception, complete with attendants to clear away plates and glasses once used. I’m afraid I’m now spoiled and may not be able to suffer future roundtables under any less suitable conditions. Of course all good things come to an end, and at the appointed time a small group of about eight of us were ushered to yet another room down the hall where there was, you guessed it, a large round table. Not too long after Gosling joined us, and the interview began. The questions flowed so nicely from reporter to reporter it was really more like a casual conversation between colleagues.
Gosling walked to the chair next to mine. I did not mind being that close to a good looking actor, but I’m far-sighted, so if someone sits within my minimal focus distance I can’t see them very well, and Gosling is a person you want to be able to see clearly. His lean physique, pale hair and seductive eyes recall a very young Paul Newman. His eyes are not nearly as blue as Newman's, but as his gaze came back to me again and again as the nearest person with whom to make eye contact I thought, “Yeah, they’ll do”.
After the roundtable was completed I left the Four Seasons feeling like I had a whole new appreciation for Ryan Gosling and his creative efforts. I had seen his hard work on the screen, but now learned about the motivation behind it. And if Gosling holds true to his ambitions I have no doubt we’ll be seeing a lot more of his accomplishments in the years to come, proving he has a lot more in common with Paul Newman than just a pretty face – he’ll end up joining the famed Hollywood icon on the roster of the Directors Guild. I wonder which fit will suit him better?
Drive does have some pretty exceptional moments of action, and there are scenes of sudden and shocking violence (Christina Hendricks’ bathroom brawl will evoke memories of Patricia Arquette in True Romance). However, the thrust of the film is placed upon Gosling’s relationship with a married young mother and his honorable desire to keep her safe. It is this story full of sexual tension, palpable angst, and unfulfilled desires (physical and otherwise) that you should expect to see when the lights go down. Then your expectations will be satisfied rather than short changed, and you’ll undoubtedly enjoy the bonus of surprise twists (of which there are many) regardless of the level of violence.
The exceptional cast includes Carey Mulligan (An Education, Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps) as the woman of interest. Her demure, yet intense performance of an earnestly conflicted woman is overshadowed only by the powerhouse portrayals provided by the rest of the ensemble. Bryan Cranston (Malcolm in the Middle, Breaking Bad) offers a unique spin on a sidekick who acts as Goslings connection between the life of a stunt driver and the life of a getaway man. Yet even more surprising is comedian Albert Brooks (Modern Romance, Defending Your Life) playing a vicious crime boss bent on retrieving some stolen money and flexing his authority in the process. Brooks’ Bernie Rose is nothing like anything you’ve ever seen him do before, and undoubtedly there will be plenty of Oscar buzz around his bravado performance. The Academy should take notice and give Brooks a well-deserved nomination for Best Supporting Actor.
The film as a whole lives up to the expectations of a modern, or Neo-Noir due in large part to a well-executed story (based on a book by James Sallis) helmed by a bright young voice, (director Nicolas Winding Refn) and Goslings’ pitch perfect performance. I would have never thought that a blonde, blue-eyed man could have pulled it off, but having seen the film I’m definitely a believer. Gosling’s Mitchum-esque mystique combined with his Gere-like sexuality ensures him a well-earned place among the memorable men of Noir, "Neo", or otherwise.