Scene Breakdown: Drive
I feel like I was the last person on earth to see this movie. Positive reviews were flowing all over twitter while it was in theaters and I could never seem to drag myself to the theaters, even though it seemed right up my alley. Crime drama, slow burn story, awesome actors, intense violence, fast cars, 80’s vibe. Whatever the case, I didn’t get to see this until it finally came out on blu ray, and it completely decimated me. The artistry of it is kind of hard to believe in this day and age, where the people with money can’t seem take a risk to save their family’s life. A lot of industry talk with the film has centered around its use of dissolves, and that is what really struck me as well. Personally, I am not a big fan of them. They have to be used sparingly, in my mind, and only at specific times. This comes from a lot of abuse early in my career due to a producer that required them on every transition. Well, this film just threw that ideology back in my face, and time and time again proved that the dissolve needs a rebirth of sorts. On top of that I think the actor Ryan Gosling is a force to be reckoned with and every movie I see with him these days hammers that point home.
It has been a while since I have put the time and effort into one of these breakdowns. It took a scene of this caliber to throw me into action, and I am so glad I did. There are so many things I learned through studying this over and over, and I hope you can glean something from it as well.
Most of my analysis is from a film editorial perspective but there will certainly be comments that deal more with directing and the other disciplines. First, I have to give credit where credit is due. Drive was released theatrically in 2011. The Director was Nicolas Winding Refn, the Film Editor was Mat Newman, and the Cinematographer was Newton Thomas Sigel. In new form I must include the Sound Designers, Lon Bender and Victor Ray Ennis, as well as the Composer, Cliff Martinez, who I am guilty of forgetting to credit in previous posts. This scene comes right after the notorious elevator scene at the 1-hour, 13-minute, and 23 second mark and is just over 2 minutes long.
1) This is actually the last shot of the previous scene, but it leads nicely into the scene I have been looking at so I included it here. It is the completion of a pretty intense scene in the movie where the main character, known only as Driver, utterly destroys another man in an elevator while his love interest looks on. At the end of the scene she has exited the elevator and Driver is left standing there as the door closes. Through the last couple shots there has been a steady tone playing in the score. Just after the sound of the elevator door shutting, another deep tone rises in volume and leads us into a hard cut to the next scene.
2) From the well lit elevator we move to the dark interior of Driver’s car as it speeds along. Now, in addition to the steady throbbing tones that have continued on from the last scene, there is the introduction of a loud distortion like effect on the sound design. It sounds like a mixture of crackling, wind noise, and car engine sounds.
It is appropriate that we smash to this new scene after the violent explosion that finished out the previous one. Emotionally, we are still reeling from what happened. After the actual act is finished, the editor gives us us a 30 second moment of silence to let it sink in and then uses this hard visual and auditory cut to wipe the slate clean and lead us somewhere else emotionally.
3) We cut to a close up profile shot of Driver. We have not seen his face since his reaction after the murder, and for the rest of this scene we never look him directly in the eyes, but only get to see a side of him. It is extremely fitting that we never get personable with him, the cinematography mimics his guarded personality.
4) The slam of a car door marks the cut to a new setup. The character Shannon is meeting up with Driver, who has been waiting for him. This is another profile shot of our characters. I love the long pauses that populate all the dialogue scenes in this movie. After slamming the door, Shannon limps up to Driver and it is almost 5 seconds before Driver says anything, and when he finally does there is a good pause between each phrase. It gives weight to every line.
5) Almost as if it were an exclamation mark, we go to a new shot of headlights on the road from the perspective of Driver back in his car. Going back to the delivery style I brought up in the previous note, it is what allows this cut to accent Driver’s line, “and they know where I live”. Because we have been conditioned to accept these slow deliveries and long camera shots throughout the movie, when a jarring cut breaks into one of these pauses it emphasizes that previous line. I feel like it empowers editorial decisions to be used more as punctuation than in the average film. Editing is the invisible art but movies like this show that it can also be brought to the forefront as a visible player in the film’s style.
6) Back in the two shot between the cars, the camera continues dollying in as Shannon states his case in true wimpy Shannon fashion. Oh, Shannon.
7) As the cutaway to the car acted as a post accent to the dialogue in shot 4, this car cutaway is used in a similar way but to accent what is going to happen next. It gives a little dramatic separation between Shannon’s excuses and Driver’s response. This shot is very effective in that way alone, but even more so due to the quick breath that Driver takes right before the cut. So not only does it have structural importance, but material importance as well. This breath emphasizes the physical outburst Driver has in the next shot. Even though this car shot exists in a different time and space it ties directly into the shot that follows, as if Driver’s first reaction to Shannon is a angry breath. The motion of the quick breath initiates the cut as well, tying the two shots together and softening the actual cut a bit. This just reiterates how important footage selection is for an editor. This section of the shot is so deliberately put here and so beautifully impacts the beginning of this scene.
8) Driver leaps out at Shannon, grabbing him around the neck, and slams him against the car. He then asks, “What did you say?”. After such a large and violent outburst, this quiet and controlled line delivery is a perfectly contrasting match. Also, the thump sound of Shannon’s body hiting the car works so well. It nicely compliments the other, higher pitched sounds of fabric rustling.
9) Here is another cut to the profile shot of Driver in his car. I won’t say much more about the emotional punctuation, but it works as the exclamation point to the previous shot. I do have to comment on an editorial style point that is widely used here in this scene as well as throughout the film. At the very beginning we see Driver in his car and assume it is a linear story vehicle to get from the scene in the elevator to the scene with Shannon. That he very literally drove from one location to the other. But as the scene goes on you get more and more shots of him driving, and less and less assurance of “when” he is driving. Looking over this scene, time and time again, I don’t know if these driving events would have happened after the elevator or after the conversation with Shannon. That is kind of the point though, it doesn’t matter when he did this, it only matters as a way of rearranging and accenting the scene at hand. There are many other scenes where this non linear storytelling pattern is used and it really creates the whole vibe of this film.
10) This is the last cut for a while. It is also the beginning of a shift to another editorial style largely prevalent in the movie, a style of using very long dissolves and superimposes across a scene. What feels so different is these dissolves don’t happen in the usual sense of showing the passage of time.
The camera has continued its dolly move into the actors. A couple shots ago we were in a medium wide shot with both characters living in the center of the frame. Now we have travelled into a medium close up where the characters are heavily weighted to the left side of the frame, almost in an over the shoulder shot from behind Driver. It is a wonderfully executed camera move that slowly transforms over the scene to get us closer to the actors as the intensity of the scene picks up. In a lot of cases this would happen by going to closer and closer shots as the scene progressed but they achieve this through one camera move intercut with the non linear car shots.
Drivers starts to say, “I should F#@*-ing kill you” and the first of many dissolves begins. The dissolve lasts between 4 and 5 seconds and resolves into the over the shoulder shot inside Driver’s car from shot #2.
11) Just as the dissolve finishes transitioning to this shot, we hear a loud musical note and then Shannon’s line, “I just wanted him to know, that as soon as you returned the money that was the end of it, that’s all”. By going to this shot the line is being emphasized. Visually, we don’t have as much to focus on as when we were looking at Shannon’s face, so the alternative encourages more focus on the auditory aspect. Such an interesting way to highlight a line of dialogue. This point is reinforced by the shot selection here. We cannot see very much in this shot other than some of the dials and the headlights on the street outside the car. This gives us even less to look at in the shot, driving even more of the auditory focus. We do have one moment when the passing street lights illuminate Driver, but if you notice, this happens perfectly in between Shannon’s words “know” and “that”. There is also a little string hit in the music just as the lights come up. I might be stretching too much there with finding meaning, but it does seem like more than just a happy little accident. The sound design for this section is more subdued than it was earlier. You can still make out some engine sounds but it does not feature the loud, distorted noise used earlier for the hard cutaway. As Shannon starts his next line, another dissolve begins, returning us to the scene in the parking lot. The dissolve starts on another one of the deep musical notes and, from a visual standpoint, begins as a green streetlight washes over Driver.
12) The dissolve is timed so that it ends just as Shannon finishes his line, “Let me just talk to Bernie, ok?”. It lasted 7 full seconds and then on cue Driver moves abruptly, shoving Shannon as he turns away from him. Within 2 seconds it begins dissolving again. Basically, the only moment the shot is at full opacity is during this shoving motion.
13) After a very quick dissolve we are back in the profile close up of Driver in his car. For the first half of the shot the only thing visible are some streetlights off in the distance. We hear Shannon’s next line of dialogue and then there is a pause. Suddenly, Driver’s face lights up in a pool of green and then, just as quickly, it dissipates. Other than a little glint off his eye, the shot is almost completely black now for 5 seconds. There is also a pause in the dialogue, allowing us to linger on Shannon’s line, “How was I supposed to know everything led to Nino?”. There is no visual or sound except for a bit of driving noise and the synthesizer notes. It is yet another editorial technique for emphasis, driving home the importance of what is being said. We hear Driver’s voice come back in, “They’re going to come looking for me”, and then my favorite dissolve of the scene starts.
14) This film is full of beautifully designed dissolves. Part of it is the timing and decisive nature of when they start and stop, but even more so is the shot composition involved. The location of the players in the frame work wonderfully with each other across the life of the dissolve. In this case we start with a shot where Ryan Gosling’s face fills almost all of the left third of the frame. The dissolve works its magic in all the negative space occupying the rest of the frame. Because his face is the only thing even somewhat lit in the A-side shot, your focus is there. As the brightest part of the B-side shot, the fluorescent lights of the parking lot, start to appear your eye is drawn to the right. You follow the line of lights right to the face of Ryan Gosling’s as it finishing dissolving in from the medium close up. From a story perspective, it brings you in, drawing you from the left side of frame to the right just as Driver says, “and they’re going to come for you, you understand?”. It is such a beautiful finale, where so many technical and aesthetic aspects come together to empower a moment. The fine art of crafting a scene comes from changes; if things get too repetitive we start to detach from story and this whole scene is such a shining example of changes. The rest of this shot exemplifies another pacing change. Up to this point we have not held on a shot for very long at all, there is always a cutaway or dissolve breaking it up. For this final section of dialogue we change that and hold on this two-shot for a full 26 seconds after the dissolve finishes.
15) For the final exclamation point to this scene, we have one more hard cut. The last question in the previous shot is Shannon asking, “what are you going to do?”. After 4 long dissolves between shots, our answer comes in a jarring cut to Driver’s face. Everything in this shot is different from the previous iterations of his profile in the car. The car is stopped and the red glow of the stoplight is washed over Driver’s face. Also, for the first time we see his eyes moving around, as he looks to right and then down. We sense an emotional level that was not apparent in the previous moments from this setting. Shannon’s question was what he was going to do, and it seems he doesn’t know yet, because he puts is head down into his hand dejectedly. It is just utterly gorgeous shot selection.
16) The scene finally ends on another decisive dissolve. With his head down, the shot transitions into the next scene where two other characters are talking. In yet another example of the beautifully composed dissolves from Drive, the foreground face of the incoming shot fits perfectly into the negative space to the right of Driver’s face.
If you want more discussion on this film check out this conversation with Editor Mat Newman. It discusses the dissolves in even more depth.
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