Ryan Gosling Crime Films: Who Did it Best
By Izzy Larson
Contains spoilers for Drive and The Place Beyond the Pines
Quarantine has got me on a major Ryan Gosling kick. From Only God Forgives to Lars and the Real Girl, his success at avoiding cast type as well as his ability to select a diverse collection of projects never ceases to reconfirm the respect I have for him as an artist. While I am never disappointed with his performances, I recently viewed for the first time two of his films that completely blew me away with the storytelling—Drive and The Place Beyond the Pines. In turn, I can not help but compare the two. Both feature Gosling as a skilled driver (in Drive he is a professional stunt car driver, in Place Beyond he is a professional motorcyclist) who commits armed robbery in hopes of supporting a family. While the content appears similar in theory, the directing styles create two drastically different tones, pushing me to ask myself: which film did it best?
Drive plays out on screen like a poem; written in blood, read in dim elevator corners, an ode to midnight Los Angeles. Director Nicholas Winding Refn is surely a poet, but his strength isn’t necessarily the weight of the words of the script, it’s the imagery they evoke. Drive is one of the most visually striking films I’ve seen; the shots are not only beautiful, but also provide important storytelling aspects. There is no dialogue that isn’t necessary and as the viewer you never find yourself wishing for less silence—in fact we see Gosling’s character’s relationship with Carey Mulligan’s character grow into a complex dynamic with little more than awkward yet earnest smiles. There’s this one unbelievable shot in an elevator where Gosling pushes Mulligan behind him and kisses her before killing the man in the elevator with them in one of the most brutal manners I’ve ever experienced. I could analyze this scene for pages so I’ll cut it short and just say that the visuals of Drive made me feel the same way I felt when watching 1917 and Mad Max:Fury Road—breathless.
While The Place Beyond the Pines cannot begin to compare to Drive in a stylistic sense I would be hard-pressed to find a script and direction that I enjoy more. The Place Beyond the Pines is a phenomenal story about the love motorcyclist-turned-criminal Luke Glanton has for his son, wonderfully illustrated by director Derek Cianfrance. The film takes place in essentially three acts that weave together to create layers of relationship building between complex characters throughout multiple generations. Cianfrance shows what love and sacrifice means through life altering events, but he also pays attention to the little things; a photograph in a police-confiscated backpack, sunglasses in an abandoned trailer and parallel tracking shots of Luke and his son Jason are some of the details that drive the emotion of the film. Cianfrance shows us characters that aren’t one thing, they’re angry, and heartbroken, and compassionate, and they make bad choices, yet we as the audience still care about them. Few directors can tell such a huge story with such a large ensemble while still making it feel as personal as Cianfrance does, and while I applaud him for his directing I must also applaud him for the best writing of his career, with lines like, “if you ride like lightning you’re going to crash like thunder” that I find myself repeating in my head weeks after viewing.
So…who did it best? I’d love to say The Place Beyond the Pines surpasses Drive, but when it comes to the question of what is the better piece of art, Drive is undeniably more visually impressive. That being said, The Place Beyond the Pines is one of the most important films to me on a personal level that I’ve ever seen, and I would choose the script itself over Drive any day. As for directing, Cianfrance and Winding Refn are very equally matched; their directing styles differ greatly yet both manage to tell their stories with a unique voice, making it seem unfair to deem one a superior director (although secretly my money’s on Cianfrance). The overall verdict? Drive is the prettier art, The Place Beyond the Pines is the richer story.