Usually I lose interest in seeing a film if I miss opening weekend. By then I read the reviews, feel like I can wait for the non-feature release, and move on. This weekend, I definitely came late to the party in seeing Drive.
While not a perfect film, I thought Drive was one of the best films I’ve seen in recent years. In some ways, it reminded me of Gran Torino. I’m usually a sucker for noir, and this film was stylistic, even hailed as “neo-noir.” I’d draw a comparison to the style of Brick, but that is certainly unflattering to how well Drive is done. Through setting, score, acting, emotion, violence, cinematography, and even wardrobe, director Nicolas Winding Refn gave us a brilliant story with an open ending. It will be best viewed in a theatre. You’ve probably heard many say “go see the movie” while in the theatres, and I readily concur.
However, to me, what evoked the most resonance was the soundtrack. The score was dark, and synth heavy, devoid of bass in some instances, and seemed to set the mood and vibe so well. It was best described as a kind of “retro, 80ish, synthesizer europop” by the director. The music seemed to mesh with the use of light, whether it be a dark room or a sunny L.A. afternoon, as well as the car chases, general driving, and action scenes. The movie score also filled some of the gaps for Driver, the stellar Ryan Gosling character, a man of few words who used tone, inflection, and space as well as words to communicate.
The outstanding soundtrack was done by Cliff Martinez. Martinez has done dozens of film scores (sex, lies, and videotape, The Limey, and Traffic to name a few), but is also known for his time as the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ drummer in the early-mid 80s. His score career, oddly enough, includes his rookie effort doing music for Pee-Wee’s Play House. He also once played with Lydia Lunch, the actress and 80s No Wave provocateur who I first learned about in the Sonic Youth biography “Goodbye 20th Century”.
After the movie I purchased the soundtrack. Independently, the songs still convey the mood of the film. Interestingly, only four songs of the soundtrack have words. One of those is “Oh My Love”, a operatic-style piece which seems a bit out-of-place on the soundtrack, but has great placement in the film and does the work of conveying a Jewish mob injustice. The other three vocal pieces are used to convey the fairytale-take of the early portion of the film before the violence begins and the hope evaporates.
The vocals of the opening song, “Nightfall”, sung by two members of the band CSS, combines the roughness of character of Gosling’s Driver with the sweet naivete of Carey Mulligan’s Irene. “Under Your Spell“, by Desire, also is used well in the film to show the yearning between the two main characters. While the song plays, Gosling is huddled over a small table with a single lamp shining on an engine motor part. The music keeps him from being desolated from Irene, who is a few doors down where the music plays at a homecoming party for Irene’s husband, who is surprisingly let free from jail early.
“A Real Hero” by College (feat. Electric Youth) is best seen here during this clip entitled “Ride Home” as Driver and Irene drive through the aqueducts en route to a small runoff. The Chromatics “Tick of the Clock” is also used as an edited down version of what appeared on “Night Drive.”
Martinez took the liberty of evoking the 80s synth vibe which could have come off as cheesy, but contextually stars here. In a film where many things shine and standout, the soundtrack is as important as any other medium in the realization and continuity of the film.