Two films take up the American cinematic love affair with cars, crime and violence
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Both Drive and Bellflower take up the American cinematic love affair with cars, crime and violence, but from different ends of the film industry. Drive is a slick big-budget project based on crime writer James Sallis' novel (whose Lew Griffin private eye series is set in New Orleans). Bellflower is writer/director/star Evan Glodell's personal hipster apocalypse, and is far more interesting if you can handle the self-importance of self-destructive, downwardly mobile slackers.
In Drive, Ryan Gosling stars as a talented driver (movie stunts, race cars, getaway cars) who spends much of the film cruising or roaring through Los Angeles' streets in the hazy night glow of street and city lights, to nourish effect. The part-time criminal moves into a new apartment after a heist gone wrong and meets attractive neighbor Irene (Carey Mulligan). Her husband is in jail, where he's managed to pile up protection money debts that draw threats to her life. More heists go wrong, mobsters demand money or blood, and the driver goes from fleeing to being the source of the film's sudden and brutal eruptions of violence.
Gosling's loner wheelman is stoic and steely although at times that seems to be indistinct from emotionless and dull. Albert Brooks's mobster also at times offers odd moods for the task at hand. The film doesn't have Quentin Tarantino's stylized cool and sharp dialogue. But the tension is tight and the chase scenes are solid and original. What drives all the violence, other than the pulp fiction thrills, is not very deep, but the action grips the road and burns rubber.
Perhaps the best conceit in Bellflower is that the two main characters, friends Aiden (Tyler Dawson) and Woodrow (Glodell), are gleefully pursing post-apocalypse readiness. The slacker tinkerers build their own flame thrower and refine their Mad Max-style muscle car (the Medusa). The women with whom they guzzle whiskey and beer with find this cool, and Woodrow courts the far more brassy Milly (Jessie Wiseman) during a grizzled road trip. When a gargantuan roughneck slaps Milly's ass, Woodrow demands an apology, threatens the guy and ends up unconscious. Milly would have preferred he won the fight, but the bravado is charming enough for her.
Woodrow can't live up to the swagger of his doom machines, and eventually Milly finds his puppy dog affections and lack of sexual machismo a problem. Whatever the couple lacks in relationship skills they overcompensate for with booze, cheating, brandishing guns and feats of both petty and reckless abandon. Their smoldering relationship unleashes rivalries among friends, violent confrontations and all around destruction. The young cast ably animates a bunch of inspired and gritty hipsters. The self-immolation is both hard to watch and and harder to stop watching. Woodrow doesn't seem to understand the extent to which he is fighting for his mind and soul, and to him, putting out the flame just doesn't seem cool. Bellflower screens two nights only and is sponsored by Chalmette Movies and the New Orleans Film Society. — Will Coviello