Soundtrack Album Review
Review by Anthony Kuzminski
Buy the soundtrack
There is no greater sensation than watching a film and being sucked into its vortex. It’s rare air where your mind ascends to a higher mental consciousness. As I watched Drive I was pulled into its world like no other film in 2011. Nothing distracted me and I was altogether engrossed in the characters onscreen. Drive is a neo-noir mystery romance with Ryan Gosling in the starring role as a stunt car driver who moonlights as a getaway driver for criminals. His steely cool demeanor grips you. We see him go through his life without ever winking an eye, until he lets his heart go to his neighbor. This choice leads to a series of cataclysmic events that leave you both shocked and awed. Characters like “The Driver” (who is nameless and is played to absolute perfection by Gosling) are rarely seen on screen anymore. Gosling’s performance is the type that makes careers. You simply can’t teach someone to act this cool, threatening and vulnerable in the course of two-hours but he does it with ease. Studios would normally demand more action, more over-the-top dialogue and a story that would be sacrificed in favor of special effects. Drive took the alternate self-sufficient route where it was created on a shoe string budget but it has as many thrills as any action film I’ve seen in the last several years. Drive has never left my consciousness since seeing it; it didn’t just mesmerize me, but haunted me as well.
Much has been made of Gosling’s performance in Drive but equal credit must be given to director Nicolas Winding Refn and screenwriter Hossein Amini for not just creating the character and the story, but the style with which it was delivered. The opening title sequence is in hot pink font tipping its hat to a decade often ridiculed for its over-the-top nature. However, as Drive unfolds, you see specifically what they were attempting to accomplish. There is an 80’s inspired synth-pop soundtrack that should sound dated but isn’t. Drive is simultaneously a nightmare and a dream evoking the feeling of undying love while throwing the sick and violent nature off the real world in your face. One of the tools the filmmakers employed to intensify the films tone was its soundtrack. Released by Lakeshore Records due to the buzz surrounding the film, it’s more than a mere collection of songs but a fundamental character to the film and one of 2011’s twenty best albums.
Composer Cliff Martinez created soundscapes that echo the underlying and bristling emotions within the film. Chosen for his work on the indie break-thru sex, lies, and videotape from more than two decades back, Martinez once again delivers a score full of restraint that’s icy as it is alienating. We’ve come to associate scores that are ostentatious, exacerbated and manipulating but Martinez has crafted a series of mood pieces that tie-in directly with the story and its characters. If you don’t pay attention close enough, you may not even notice his musical touches which is truly the highest compliment I can give. Instead of a walloping crescendo of strings, Martinez compliments a hypnotizing universe in constant motion with subtlety.
The score is complimented by five songs. The opening title sequence features “Nightcall” by Kavinsky, an electronic musician from France. The marriage of music and film on these opening titles is esoteric. We’re not sure where we are being taken or what roads will be traveled, but the early distorted vocals add an element of darkness before Lovefoxxx acts in contrast to the monstrous machine-like vocals at the beginning. It foreshadows what is to come. Chosen by the editor of
What differentiates filmmaking from novels is the ability to perfectly pinpoint emotions for which there are no words. We sometimes watch cinema like a painting where the picture tells us everything we need to know. The songs within Drive are not ones I would have initially paid attention to outside of the context of the film but within it they come across as soulful hymns as they root out thee character’s agony and elation. It transports and enlightens the listener concurrently which honest-to-goodness is a near impossible feat in cinema let alone within the realm of pop music. Drive exists in a universe where facial expressions, camera movements and its soundtrack embroider its emotions. It’s a triumph of filmmaking where so much goes unspoken and yet the audience walks away fully engaged, fully aware and full alive. You may not know it but Drive is more than 2011’s best film, it is also the most transfixing and arousing soundtrack of 2011 as well.
Anthony Kuzminski is a Chicago based writer and Special Features Editor for the antiMusic Network. His daily writings can be read at The Screen Door. He can be contacted at thescreendoor AT gmail DOT com and can be followed on Twitter