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September 22, 2011 5:50 pm
Beware of flash photography – and flash direction – in Drive, a crime thriller at once hyperkinetic and supercool. Star Ryan Gosling won a round of applause, ironic but gleeful, during the Cannes screening when the camera framed his character blood-bespattered, all over, after violently shooting a baddie in self-defence. Since director Nicolas Winding Refn’s Hollywood debut is all style and no soul – which may disappoint admirers of his last film, the sombrely bewitching Valhalla Rising – we duly respond when the style hits the star, even the ceiling.
The style, put simply, is blood. Lots of it. Gosling, chewing a toothpick Steve McQueen-style and adept at gently smouldering charisma, hires himself out as a getaway driver. Clients get five minutes to complete their job, then Gosling burns rubber. He’s “clean”; his licence is clean. Only slightly less clean, and married to a subplot-triggering ex-con, is his girlfriend, played with subtle sass and hints of feeling by British actress Carey Mulligan.
Gosling is the full Zen hero. He wears a face like a sphinx and an enigmatic orange-scorpion appliqué on his jacket. He and we listen to each crime’s ticking seconds as if they were the countdown in a philosophical question.
Even when the screen goes berserk – a face splintering under a stamping heel, a master-crook attacking a defenceless colleague’s features with a knife and fork – director Refn doesn’t blink or expect us to. For this he won the best director award at Cannes, defeating, not without controversy, the fellow Dane who had beaten him to the festival’s offscreen headlines, one Lars Von Trier.
You wait all year for a Ryan Gosling film, then two sheer off the road and run into you as you stand at the bus stop. Crazy, Stupid, Love (a title defying syntactical analysis) is a multi-plot romantic comedy. Long-married Steve Carell splits from wife Julianne Moore; a friendly singles-bar Lothario (Gosling) gives him pick-up tuition; Kevin Bacon and Marisa Tomei get brief scenes. Tomei’s is the only laugh-out-loud funny one in the film. The rest is maudlin, glossy, overextended.
The media desk editor depicted in Page One: Inside the New York Times, a documentary about an industry’s death throes, has a vintage European-release poster of Citizen Kane on his wall. What it tells him is that Europe in the 1940s was so crazily chic it depicted Orson Welles with a 28-inch waist and Tyrone Power looks. What it tells me, and probably director Andrew Rossi, is that the newspaper industry is as doomed, after centuries of chimerical triumph, as the titles once run by Charles Foster Kane.
Rossi thinks the NYT can survive, though its main spokesman and advocate here, David Carr, is an ex-crack addict turned raddled-voiced star reporter. Carr pads around like an amiable bloodhound, growling epigrams at the doomsayers who insist print journalism is unsustainable. The advertisers are fled (say they); Wikileaks scoops the big stories; and since “every connected citizen” can now blog, each of us can be his own newspaper proprietor and editor. It’s a complex, troubling story told with chastening intelligence, though I suspect it needed one outrageous wit and world-commentator (not just Mr Carr), a Gore Vidal or a Tom Wolfe, to pitch the film higher, louder, wittier.
You wait all year for a documentary about endangered New York subcultures, then two arrive together. (Pattern of the week). If Page One is a little po-faced, Ultrasuede: In Search of Halston – all about the so-named fashion designer who was the cynosure of 1970s east-coast America (Studio 54, Warhol parties, designing Jackie Kennedy and Liza Minnelli’s clothes) – is peculiar, picaresque and presided over by a self-appointed fashion paradigm.
The filmmaker and onscreen narrator Whitney Sudler-Smith resembles Austin Powers gone stateside. A new 1970s-ish outfit comes with every scene. The coiffed hair is slightly unkempt, as if the blower had been confiscated seconds before completion. Sudler-Smith’s erratic interviewing style – now diffident, now confrontational – leaves perplexed looks on the faces of Minnelli (one-time Halston best friend), Anjelica Huston (one-time Halston model) and others.
The archive footage, though, is delectable. Halston, handsome, louche, disdainful, presides over his creations, whether of fabric or flesh (the models on whom he bestowed fame and earning power), like a gay Hugh Hefner, in penthouse spaces somewhere above Cloud Nine. His office appears to look down on the late World Trade Center. Here he parades the to-die-for dresses. Halston himself died of Aids, soon after a sadly misconceived partnership with downmarket retailers JC Penney. Surviving him were a male lover, a grief-stricken fashion world and now this weird but watchable documentary.
Cage fighting in Pennsylvania is one of the eye-catching activities in that human zoo we call the US. In Warrior, two Irish-American brothers go head to head – and fist to fist, and foot to solar plexus – in the no-blows-barred world of mixed martial arts. Estranged for years, but sharing their DNA with a haggard, growling, reformed-alcoholic dad (played by a Nick Nolte, who seems to be attempting a dawn raid on the best supporting actor Oscar nomination), physics teacher and one-time boxer Brendan (Joel Edgerton) needs mortgage money at just the same time that ex-Marine Tommy (Tom Hardy) needs to erase the haunting memory of recent war combat.
Gavin O’Connor, director and co-writer, stretches every scene on a rack of broody torment. We almost ask “Where is Marlon Brando?” as the bruised pauses multiply. The imagery is sombre. The fights raise the adrenaline level, if not the spirits. Only the ending is pure, shameless Rockyism. It’s a tribute to the actors that they bring rounded characters to the ring. Edgerton is edgily magnetic. Hardy’s punchy, handsome features and stammering speech suggest some late-Method hero as martyr, awaiting the sweat cloth on the road to Calvary. Brando doesn’t seem, once or twice during his performance, a ludicrous comparison.
Mademoiselle Chambon, a spare, refined French love story, has been to the Brief Encounter well. It hauls its bucket up slowly. We’re not sure till the end, or even then, if there is much water in it. Vincent Landon plays the married builder falling for pale, prettyish small-town schoolteacher Sandrine Kiberlain. Their hearts throb but their resolve trembles. He thinks of his wife and kids, but also of the Elgar number Kiberlain played for him, heart-rendingly, on her violin. The penultimate scene is set on a railway platform – where else? – as the story’s will-they-won’t-they melodies play on, evoking not just the Noël Coward weepie but Casablanca and pretty much all the rest of the cinema’s suffering-for-love gang.
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