2011′S DRIVE was as much about the look and feel of modern Los Angeles as it was about a quiet, young stunt driver and part-time mechanic with a good heart, stuck in an inescapable devolving life unwillingly tied to violence and criminal enterprise. The film’s title sequence and soundtrack painted the city romantically and in an emotive, etherial manner reminiscent of the Los Angeles in Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner and the Tokyo of Katsuhiro Otomo in Akira. It was somewhat of a departure from the expected by Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn, which historically has tended to see other directors portray the City of Angels as a festering cesspool, and largely a creation of its Hollywood subterfuge and post-World War II boom development cycle, with a critical mass of sad lives beneath California’s golden sun and haze.
“A Real Hero,” College featuring Electric Youth, Drive
And maybe that is true for the city — possessing a critical mass of sad, broken lives — as it is anywhere, or perhaps a bit more. But overwhelmingly, that has been a pet of and vehicle for directors to transport viewers to a land of broken dreams and terrible misfortune, such as what is currently imagined in Michael Mann’s and H.B.O.’s serial drama of cinematic quality, Luck. (Or the classic Chinatown and the odd, Mulholland Drive.) While all of these films which have Los Angeles as a main character — and not merely as a setting — and a complete environ that influences the story in many ways, tend to deal with the underbelly of life and crime within a rubric and genre known as film noir, unlike them, however, Drive doesn’t seem to fault the city.
Refn skillfully captures its balance of urban and exurban landscapes and nature, even pivoting much of our perception of the main character’s sensitivity on it, by way of his excursion with a potential love interest and her son through the empty concrete canal of the Los Angeles’ river to a secluded brook. Refn also uses the emptiness of the night-time Los Angeles streets; a familiar and relevant scene so apparent to anyone who has driven the city any time after 2 a.m., to show its serenity, before his juxtaposing with adrenalin-dumping scenes.
Further, the soundtrack and musical score, produced by Cliff Martinez, seems to echo much of modern Los Angeles and its love for synthesized music elements, articulated in the younger communities of the city and the dreamy, hazy, pop and nostalgia for the contemporary found in the Angeleno music since even the Beach Boys. The standouts: “A Real Hero” by College featuring Electric Youth (above), “Nightcall” by Kavinsky and Lovefoxxx, and the rest of the score by Martinez, find their way into your bloodstream and imagination, and perfectly yaw-and-pitch the varying moods of the film.