Drive (US - BD RA)
Jonathan takes another look at his favourite movie of 2011 on Blu-ray..
This review was written using a copy of the film I purchased myself on the day of release. To save time and hopefully get this review out near the Blu-ray release date, I'm adapting the thoughts from my Top Ten of 2011 article for the feature section of this review.
There is something seriously infectious about Drive that I find difficult to place my finger on. Every component of the film works to create an irresistible vibe, so much that I returned to the theater four more times to revisit the feeling; bringing new friends along and feeling eager to hear their thoughts on it. The restrained yet confident direction from European art house filmmaker, Nicolas Winding Refn, makes for a potent mixture with a deliciously 80's-inspired soundtrack filled with addictive synth.
Ryan Gosling's silent but intense lead character is an interesting beast. He reminded me very much of Lee Byung-hun's leading man in the Korean film A Bittersweet Life. Aside from being outrageously cool both men never open up about themselves for a second or carry on a conversation for more than a couple languid exchanges, and both men get involved in simple relationships with young women that become the center of their entire existence. Many have criticized the leisurely pace of the dialogue between the driver and Irene (Carey Mulligan), but to have them open up to each other so readily would be a complete contradiction to the characters. Their relationship isn't about conversation or getting to know every detail about one another. They see each other as a ticket to a simple, comfortable existence. That comfort is threatened when Irene's husband returns home and the driver becomes involved with a group of criminals. One such criminal is Bernie Rose, played by Albert Brooks in an unusual role for him. He is scary good, and in my opinion he was snubbed by the Academy this year. After a deal goes bad and the driver ends up with money that doesn't belong to him, things really get intense.
Drive appears to be a very polarizing experience among audience members, and with good reason. If you boil the plot and script down to its basic elements, you don't have anything particularly interesting or new. It thrives on nuance and meticulous attention to detail. This is a director's film, and Refn can either pull you into the vortex of this violent world or put you to sleep his vision. Personally, I'm still trapped in it. And the experience has proved to be just as electrifying with every subsequent viewing.
Sony gives Drive an impressive bit rate on Blu-ray; taking up 30 GB of a BD-50 with only one audio track present on the file. It shows in the 1080p transfer, which looks incredibly clean. Colours are especially rich and vibrant. Nighttime scenes criminally abuse the orange and teal palette, but I dare say it has never looked better and more fitting. Reds are especially eye-catching in the hallway of the Driver's apartment complex or a red curtain in a changing room. The film was shot on a series of HD digital cameras so the look isn't always perfectly consistent. There is noticeable digital noise in certain scenes. Toward the very beginning when the Driver is waiting on two criminals I noticed some distracting digital flickering on his face. During some brightly lit daytime scenes the darker areas of the picture are a host to more digital noise that diverted my attention. This is a pattern I've noticed with a lot of digitally shot films, so I'm ready to place the blame on the source and not the transfer. Other digital artefacts like blocking and banding and not a concern in the slightest. Aside from the aforementioned instances of digital noise, this is a near-flawless transfer. Drive is a slick film, and the incredibly clean, smooth look of the transfer adds to that feeling.
Drive has one of the most impressive audio tracks I've heard on a Blu-ray disc in a long time. The LFE channel gets to work immediately as The Chromatics 'Tick of the Clock' bubbles up into the soundtrack with it's punchy vibes. College's 'Real Hero' and Kavinsky's 'Nightcall', which are both essential to the feel of the movie, sound absolutely terrific on this track. The rest of the phenomenal score from Cliff Martinez also sounds pure and rich. The opening driving sequence has arguably the most impressive sound design of the entire film. Loud helicopters fly overhead. You can hear the faint whir of every car passing the Driver by, and feel the even the slightest rumbles of the engine. Whenever cars collide, the LFE channel explodes. I felt like I was sitting in a D-Box chair from the way the room shook. The rear channels are constantly at work during any driving scenes, with cars traveling between channels one after another. Quieter scenes have plenty of ambient noise to fill the room and create palpable immersion. The gentle dialogue exchanges between the Driver and Irene are appropriately leveled. I never had to raise the volume to make out what was being said by the characters, even though they're softly spoken. Sound is a huge part of Drive. Lots of little details like the sound of a tightening leather glove or the rapid ticking of the Driver's watch all work to create an insane level of tension, and this audio track does a perfect job of recreating that experience I had watching this in the theatre.
I Drive (HD, 05:26) is a featurette that takes a look at the character of the Driver. It starts off with producers talking about the character and how his mysterious nature and principles makes him more interesting. It then drifts off-topic into cast members talking about Refn and how well he worked with actors.
Under the Hood (HD, 11:50) is the longest of the featurettes. It examines the story and the characters. Most of the runtime is comprised of the actors talking about how their characters are developed and how they worked with Refn to change and adapt their characters for the story. Albert Brooks talks about playing a violent criminal for the first time.
Driver and Irene (HD, 06:14) focuses, as you might guess, on the relationship between the Driver and Irene. The screenwriter talks about how their simple romances is devoid of all the fluff that normal movie romances come with. He echoes my thoughts that what they aren't saying is far more interesting than what they are saying.
Cut to the Chase (HD, 04:35) is a look at the cars and the stunt work. Gosling wanted to do all his own stunt driving, but the filmmakers decided against it. They talk about how the opening car chase is viewed entirely from the inside of the car and how that makes the Driver seem so much more skilled and intuitive. The filmmakers talk about some of the unique challenges they faced.
Drive Without a Driver: Entretien Avec Nicolas Winding Refn (HD, 25:41) is encoded in HD but looks much closer to standard definition. It's a long, scattered series of segments from an interview with director Nicolas Winding Refn. He covers subjects like coming to the US and having the Hollywood movie-making experience, his unique interview processes that took place at his home, the risks that producers took on the film and how many of the actors got on board with the film. It's very informative even if it's structurally all over the place.
Drive is a gripping experience from beginning to end. The action sequences are unique and inventive, and it abandons conventional romance and character development for something far more nuanced and interesting. It's my favourite film of 2011. Sony brings the film to Blu-ray with an impressive video transfer and a flawless audio presentation. Extras are a bit light and don't go nearly as in-depth as I'd like. Refn has stated in interviews that he is a big fan of Blu-ray releases and wants to make a feature-packed deluxe edition of Drive in the next year. Let's hope he follows through.
* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray release and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.
Review by Jonathan Hogberg
Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian
Release Date: 31st January 2012
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English
Subtitles: English, English SDH, Spanish
Extras: I Drive, Under the Hood, Driver and Irene, Cut to the Chase, Drive Without a Driver: Interview with Nicolas Winding Refn Documentary, UV Digital Copy
Easter Egg: No
Director: Nicolas Winding Refn
Cast: Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan, Bryan Cranston, Albert Brooks
Genre: Crime, Drama and Thriller
Length: 100 minutes
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