Thursday, December 15, 2011

Drive(l) and Divinity

The theme of this week’s two movies is racing cars.

Let’s first get the rubbish out of the way. A whole lot of boys, who really should know better, are getting a hard-on about Drive.

It has been called brilliant, which has become a meaningless word, and intelligent, which is laughable. Actually, it’s the biggest load of homoerotic hooey I’ve seen in a long time.

Danish-born director Nicholas Winding Refn is on record for saying that “the thing with Ryan [Gosling], you can look at him for hours.”

I beg to differ. After about the third searching shot of Gosling’s sculpted and toothpicked visage sitting in a car, moving or not, it was quite clear that Refn, apart from his self-delusion that we all like looking endlessly at Gosling as he clearly does, was trying to make up screen time.

Someone should have reminded him that the man can actually act, as in Blue Valentine, not just pose. But Refn is clearly trying to create The Man With No Name for the 21st century, and he fails. Dismally.

Then there is the love interest. Carey Mulligan is the woman who has a child and lives next door. Her husband is in jail, like all Latinos clearly should be, and her and Gosling’s White Anglo-Saxon Paths will cross.

Here’s an example of an exchange between them. He is sitting on a windowsill with the city behind him and the light lovingly caressing his sculpted features: He: “I’m not doing anything this weekend.”

A long pause ensues in which more screen time is filled to the accompaniment of what can only be described as soft porn music. “If you want to do something,” he finally continues.

Mulligan, who has become somewhat typecast as playing the straight who either goes over to the other side but mostly yearns for it, stares at him. And smiles. For a long time.

The funniest scene is where they’re in a lift with another man, a seriously dangerous looking individual. He’s packing heat, as they say. But this is the moment where Gosling decides he’s going to give Mulligan that kiss that’s been brewing between them for a very, very long screen time.

They have their kiss, which is admittedly quite a good snog - even if it’s in the wrong context - and then he beats the man to a bloody pulp.

But wait. This is supposed to be a film about driving. I am not a big car and racing fan, but there isn’t all that much of it here anyway. Hell, the Bourne chases are, in my limited opinion, way superior. Or is it about the precious male drive to protect women and children at all costs? Ho-hum.

Somehow it doesn’t surprise me that Refn has failed his driver’s licence eight times and doesn’t drive himself. This is clearly his rather infantile way of expressing his frustration.

But there is one good thing he did in this film: Albert Brooks makes a truly scary thug, which renders Gosling’s reaction to this razor fiend all the more puzzling. Why turn your back on the man who’s handiwork you’ve just witnessed?

Intelligent? My arse.


To reiterate, I am not much of a car or racing fan, but I do like a good drama and that is what Senna is, documentary or not.

In fact, it has its own special brilliance that doesn’t require you to be a fan of either at all.

Why is this? Assembled entirely of found footage and a few voice-over interviews, the makers of this film have put together a universal drama of clashing types.

On the one hand you have the French rationalist, the political player, the survivor, Alain Prost. On the other you have the divine genius, the religious national hero of Brazil, Ayrton Senna.

Towards the end of the movie I felt on edge every time a race and a date came up, knowing the man was going to die, but not knowing when.

In fact, the film is so cleverly put together that it manages to “capture” Senna’s unease in the cockpit just before he’s about to have that fatal, almost Christ-like crash.

What glues it all together, of course, is that seriously neglected aspect of film, its music. The score by Antonio Pinto does a great job filling in all the blank spaces in that very special Brazilian way.

Strangely, in last week’s documentary on George Harrison there was a description of racing by Jackie Stewart which really gives an insight into the sport. He said racing would heighten his senses to such an extent that once he approached a corner, smelled grass and knew there’d been an accident and that he had to be careful - at about 250km/h!

After seeing Senna I drove to see that other piece of junk in the genius's winning weather, the rain, and felt the sensual thrill of driving a car again. It really is a great movie.

Neil Sonnekus

* Next week, the best movies of the year.

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