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Tag Archives: Ryan Gosling
Why is “Drive”—a seemingly trivial affair about a stuntman and part-time getaway driver, played by Ryan Gosling, pulled into deep and bloody waters on the neon-and-streetlight lit streets of L.A.—even at Cannes, let alone in competition? It’s not merely because of the bloody-but-brilliant background of director Nicolas Winding Refn, whose films (the “Pusher” trilogy, “Bronson,” “Valhalla Rising”) have demonstrated both an eye for composition and a taste for the jugular. It’s not merely because of the film’s cinematic roots, with the production seemingly crafted as a clear tribute to ‘80s-era Michael Mann and other synthesizer-and-faux-leather action-crime stories. Rather, you can make a case that “Drive” is here because action cinema and genre cinema are too important—and too exciting, enthralling and, yes, artful when well made—to be merely dismissed as suitable only for hacks to make and dolts to watch. French enthusiasm for American crime cinema from the ‘40s and ‘50s gave us the vocabulary and value set to truly appreciate film noir—and anyone who can truly appreciate film noir will appreciate “Drive.”
Gosling’s nameless wheelman Driver lives in L.A., works from his car. He takes on odd jobs. He’ll wait outside of a building for five minutes while you do whatever you need to. Then he’ll drive you away from that building. He doesn’t need, or want, to know what you’re doing. He doesn’t carry a gun. He just needs to drive. And the film opens with Gosling at work, dodging the L.A.P.D. after a robbery with a series of smart moves and clever fake-outs that involve a knowledge of urban geography and human behavior to stay hidden—and then involve driving like hell once that cover is blown. Movies like the big, loud (but still excellent) “Fast Five” offer us the car chase; what’s seen here is more like car chess.
Adapted from James Sallis’ novel by Hossein Ameni (”The Wings of the Dove,” “Jude”—and, more appropriately, the Elmore Leonard adaptation “Killshot”), “Drive” is simple, steady storytelling. The opening sequence—soaring synthesizers over late-night streets, with the credits in a neon script that instantly evokes Reagan-era diversions like Mann’s “Thief” or Friedkin’s “To Live and Die in L.A.”—tells us exactly what kind of film we’re in for, and we are not disappointed. Gosling’s single-mom neighbor Irene (Carey Mulligan) and her son Benicio (Kaden Leos) enter his life and his world, and he’s happy. And then her husband Standard (Oscar Isaac) gets out of jail. Standard wants to go straight. Other people won’t let him. And since they’re threatening Irene and Benicio, Driver has to step in.
While Drive is indebted to Walter Hill‘s “The Driver” from 1978, the other crime-fiction forebear that comes to mind is Richard Stark‘s Parker novels, which depict the adventures of a criminal with a simple code of something like honor. Criminality doesn’t offend Gosling’s Driver; lack of professionalism does. He won’t carry a gun, but he will use one. He doesn’t start fights, but he ends them. And if you’ve grown tired of watching Gosling suffer, Christ-like, for our sins in a series of indie dramas like “Half Nelson,” “Lars and the Real Girl” and “Blue Valentine,” then watching him, for example, pulverize a man’s skull with his foot will prove remarkably invigorating.
Refn’s direction is so subtly and beautifully framed that you don’t notice how good it is until much later. A brief stolen moment on an elevator shines with amber slow-mo light. An adroit fade takes the story exactly where it needs to go. And the car matters are shot in a way that makes it clear that for Driver, a car is not an extension of muscle, but, rather, of intellect and will as well. Refn also keeps the violence quick, brisk and brutal—the people who are shot in this film do not clutch idly at a squib’s dot of blood before grunting their way to the ground, and the people who do the killing are splattered with gore—and this is as it should be.
Gosling’s work is fine and reserved (his first line of more than three words in the film is a threat), and the supporting cast clicks into place like gears in a fine-tuned engine. Bryan Cranston is Gosling’s friend and aide, Mulligan is wary and warm as the girl, and Christina Hendricks and James Biberi have sleazy snap as low-level crooks. But it’s Albert Brooks—as a Jewish made man in L.A., an ex-movie producer, and an organized-crime manager who still proves surprisingly adept at labor—who truly impresses. Some will object to Gosling’s lack of backstory or motivation for his criminal acts, but if we had to choose between a movie that leaves these things to the imagination or over-elaborates them with the rambling sweaty eye-shifting tale-telling of a bad liar, I’ll take the former. “Drive” works as a great demonstration of how, when there’s true talent behind the camera, entertainment and art are not enemies but allies.
In “Blue Valentine,” Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams play a couple, and we get to see them at very different stages of their life. We see them meet — cute kids excited by possibility — and then, years later, married, with a kid, worn down by reality. Written and directed by Derek Cianfrance, “Blue Valentine” went through a serious challenge when it initially received an NC-17 rating from the Motion Picture Association of America, meaning it could be seen only by people over 17, a rating that’s a financial death sentence for any movie. That rating was later repealed, but when I spoke with Gosling in December, it wasn’t yet, and the 30-year-old actor had some inside perspective on what that rating meant to his film, and his confusion about why it was there at all.
“Well, I can’t make any sense of it,” he said. “They don’t give you enough information. I only know it’s because of the oral sex scene because I heard from somebody who talked to them. There’s no official statement, and there’s no real reasoning. You just hear it through the grapevine. The hearing takes place in private. It’s not recorded; you can’t really know. I’d love to hear the argument. I feel like we’re being held accountable for what we did, and I think they should be held accountable for what they’re doing. I’m confused.”
Frankly, the ratings board’s decision was confusing — especially when you consider that “Black Swan,” with a drug-fueled similar scene, got an R rating. Not only is it a double-standard, Gosling noted, but he found it hard to explain to people why the rating meant bad things for “Blue Valentine.” “What I think people don’t really understand is they think ‘So what, it’s an NC-17 film. You can’t see the film unless you’re 17. What’s the big deal?’ The reality is that if it gets an NC-17 rating, it can’t play in most major theater chains, and you’re not even allowed to take out ads on television. You’re really stigmatizing the film. In a way, you’re saying not ‘I don’t want kids to see it,’ but ‘I don’t want anyone to see it,’ unless you live in a big city and you have an art house theater. So it’s a very aggressive rating, and I think a lot of people don’t realize that.”
“But it is very much a double standard, it seems, because obviously you could reference other films, plenty of films where guys are receiving oral sex from women and that’s fine, or women in sexual scenarios that are violent, and that’s entertainment, but if they’re complicit or they’re receiving pleasure, or somehow if there’s love involved in the sex, it becomes pornographic. What else is confusing is the idea that it’s a film about, in a way, sexual responsibility. People are having careless sex, and she has a baby. She has to give up on her career plans and her life, and her whole life is affected by her choice. Everyone’s held accountable for their actions, which is pretty rare in terms of sexuality presented in film. Worst-case scenario, your kid sneaks in and sees that. What’s so bad — that a kid would see a man and a woman making love, or that there’s consequences for your actions?”
“Blue Valentine” wasn’t shot like a conventional film, nor was the script written in stone. Instead, Ryan Gosling and co-star Michelle Williams pretty much moved into the house where much of the film was shot, with director Derek Cianfrance constantly rolling the camera and letting his actors live like a married couple. As Gosling explained, “We thought every detail we could think of, and we did everything we could do. We had Christmas and birthdays, made birthday cakes, wrapped presents, got family pictures at Sears, cooked, cleaned, fought, made up, bought clothes, gave old stuff away to the Goodwill, mowed the lawn, got in trouble for not mowing the lawn. We did as much as we could in that month so that we would have actual memories to refer to in the film.”
And Gosling and Williams didn’t get a lot of opportunities to decompress: “(Cianfrance) never really called ‘cut.’ He never really said ‘action.’ I don’t know how to explain it, but it wasn’t like that. The thing that blows my mind is that Michelle somehow would do what you saw in the film and then she would go home at night and be a mom. She’s an athlete. … I felt like Scottie Pippen, and she was Michael Jordan. I felt like every time I’d pass her the ball, she slam-dunked it.” And what, I asked, did Gosling learn from that? “That I’m not as good as Michelle Williams.” I suggested he was being modest, and he demurred: “No, that’s true.” I asked if there was, in fact, anything else he learned, and Gosling laughed: “That Michelle Williams is better than me.”
Gosling may be more than willing to praise Williams, but it’s not as if his own performance is going unnoticed. Gosling is getting more than a little Oscar talk for his work in “Blue Valentine,” and not without cause. He explained how, to him, the Oscar process isn’t really something he thinks about, even as he plays along. “Well, there’s nothing you can do at that point. There’s nothing you can do. You do more interviews and go to more screenings, or something like that. There’s things you can do. But you can’t change your performance, and you can’t change how it’s going to resonate with people. You can’t change the criteria how these things are judged. All that stuff is out of your control. You’re not aware that you’re in some kind of competition when you’re doing it. When you’re making a movie, at the end of the year it’s treated like some kind of a race, but when you’re doing it, you don’t even know. You’re just in a competition with yourself.”
Gosling, of course, was nominated for “Half Nelson” in 2006. Does he feel like that experience would prepare him for another nomination? “I really have no idea,” he said. “You can’t really predict those things. I’m just excited that people are talking about the movie. We have a big hurdle now with this rating, and all of this helps. Anything to raise awareness for the film. This film took 12 years to make this movie. We worked on this for years. Right in the home stretch, to be handicapped with a rating like this, it’s unfortunate. We’ll make it. Movies have a life way after these three months they’re being promoted. People will find — I didn’t see ‘Blue Velvet’ until I was 14. It was probably 10 years after it was made, but it changed my life. People will find this movie when they’re supposed to find it, and it’s the best movie I’ve made. That’s reward enough for me.”
A few days later, talking by phone with Ryan Gosling‘s “Blue Valentine” co-star Michelle Williams, I could hear her children in the background as she came on the line. After some placating and guidance, she came to the conversation, and I asked, only half-kiddingly, if this is just part of the pleasure of being Michelle Williams, that she goes through the tough balancing act of having it all? Williams, whose personal life has occasionally overshadowed her superb body of work, laughed: “I have never once looked at it as a case of trying to have it all. No, I think that the Lord giveth and the Lord taketh in equal measure. Although I actually don’t think that’s true. I think he takes and takes and takes. Sometimes I feel like you’re like running through time shedding. There’s this quote in this book that I love, ‘Rich in Love’: ‘When you’ve truly lost everything, then you can at least become rich in love.’ And I feel like I’m rolling in it. And then there are these small pleasures and large pleasures along the way that help you — or that, I (just) don’t know.”
And, like Gosling, she’s also trying to keep her head in the hubbub of awards season: “I mean, it gives my heart a little — what would I call it? — a little start, a little … if I say ‘a hug,’ I’m going to be embarrassed for all time. I mean a little jump start, a little kick of energy or something. It’s lovely, because I think — maybe more in keeping with what I was trying to say before — is that there are so many things, there are so many reasons to not celebrate. So when something comes along, it’s like learning how to take a compliment. You know what else it is? Appreciate when things are going well, because as soon as things are going well, it means that it’s going to change.”
Williams doesn’t seem to take the roles other young actresses do — I noted that she’s never been the plucky journalist with a new job in the big city, or the tough-as-nails cop with bangs and a gun. Do her agents and advisers, I asked, ever suggest a part like that in the name of building a paycheck along with a career? “Yes, I hear that from time to time,” she said. “I am interested in not repeating myself, obviously. That would be boring for me and for everyone else. So I have my eye on that, but at the same time, staying true to what is my nature, what are my beliefs, and how I want to spend my time, how I want to spend the time that I have in this lifetime, which is never enough. And also, my work takes me away from my daughter. She comes with me, obviously, but it is time spent away from her, so for me, to justify that decision, you couldn’t pay me to spend time away from her. I don’t do this for money. I do it to support us, sure, but it’s not the motivating factor. So my time away from her has to mean something almost on a spiritual level. Like I don’t have a choice; I must do this.”
Michelle Williams was in Martin Scorsese‘s big-budget thriller “Shutter Island” earlier in the year. Does it, I asked, make a difference to her if she’s in a movie that costs tens of thousands of dollars, or tens of millions? “No, not really,” she said. “I have a preference to working small, because I like to feel — I like to know everybody’s names. I like to feel that we are all in it together. I think that I give better performances when I have relationships on set. When everybody’s in it with you, really. Sometimes I wish I was a different kind of actress. Sometimes I wish I could just unpack my suitcase, so to speak. What I want to say, what I’m trying to say, is that of course it doesn’t ultimately matter, but I do find the roles just tend to be more interesting, honestly, in the smaller movies that I get offered, as opposed to the more commercial things. I also think there’s better actors for that. I’m not the best person for those jobs.”
Of course, smaller films often mean more intensity — as was the case with “Blue Valentine” and its hard-to-watch moments of conflict and intimacy. I asked Williams if that was as tough as it seemed. “It was, indeed, exhausting,” she said. “It’s exhausting, but also it’s regenerative, because working like that, it gives back to you in a strange way. It was exhausting because you never knew what was going to happen. What I mean is that you’re constantly on your toes, and that all of your senses are in overtime because you’re basically under siege. You’re under siege with the actor that’s in front of you and the director that’s asking of you, and so you must be alert at all times, especially when you’re working with somebody like Ryan, who is prepared — fully prepared — and completely unpredictable.”
Since I spoke with Gosling after the NC-17 rating had been appealed, and with Williams after it had been reversed, I asked her if it was a relief to have that change made. “Oh, it sure is,” she said. “When I first heard about it, it didn’t really rile me up, until I came to understand that the larger issue was one of censorship and of valuing violence over an honest portrayal of a sexual relationship over time. So to have it overturned actually feels kind of miraculous, although something else I’ve learned along the way is it’s good company to be in. (To be) censored material is kind of a compliment. When I first heard, I thought that it was referring to children under the age of 17 being allowed to see this film or not. Because I’m a girl and because I wasn’t socialized to fight — I was socialized to accept the world as it is and learn how to work inside of it — so I didn’t think about it. Especially when you’re fighting a roomful of men. I thought, ‘I’m not going to get anywhere.’ When that was explained to me, that you could basically only have access to this movie if you lived in a major metropolis near an art house cinema, then my little fighter spirit came alive. And also, I came to understand my role of the woman in the situation in question. What I wanted to communicate was that when we filmed that scene — the oral sex scene, the scene in question — Derek and Ryan said, ‘If you see this, and you feel uncomfortable with this, it won’t be in the movie.’ So actually, it was my decision.” Williams laughed, low and bemused: “I’m the reason we’re in this mess.” “Blue Valentine” opens this week in limited release.