Each Motion State Face Off pits two films, franchises, or television series against each another for no reason other than because we can.
The inspirations for Nicolas Winding Refn’s 2011 film Drive are no secret. Perhaps the most direct analogue is Walter Hill’s The Driver (1978), which shares so many of the same characteristics that Refn’s film stops just short of being a remake. The general plot of both follows a nameless getaway driver of exceptional skill as he navigates a complex web of criminals, cops and would-be lovers, speeding to stay one step ahead as these forces converge around him. Drive features more minute homages to Hill’s film, too, including a redo of a particularly iconic scene in which the eponymous Driver (Ryan O’Neal) executes a high-speed chase in reverse gear. There’s something very American about a car chase in reverse, no? Difficult to say whether the instances of breakneck backpedaling in Drive or The Driver are done well, though, when the only competition is from the likes of The Transporter, Fast and Furious, Talladega Nights, etc…
Anyway. There’s sadly no reverse car chase in Le samourai, Jean-Pierre Melville’s quiet masterpiece of crime and criminal code. But it is undoubtedly an influence on Refn’s Drive, and is in many ways a more appropriate analogue than Hill’s Driver. Starring Alan Deloin as a largely-emotionless killer-for-hire, Le samourai went a long way to establishing a minimalist aesthetic in the gangster film — a genre more often associated with shootouts, explosions, larger-than-life mobsters and, yeah, reverse car chases. But the quietude of Melville’s film is haunting, reflected in the flat visage of its main character, and Le samourai went on to influence Woo’s The Killer (1989), Frankenheimer’s Ronin (1998), Jarmusch’s Ghost Dog (1999), Mann’s Collateral (2004) and countless others.
Oh Carey Mulligan. How my heart yearns for you and your perfect period-piece face.
In Suffragette, a movie about the women’s rights movement in Britain in the early 20th century, Mulligan is joined by Helena Bonham Carter and Meryl Streep as part of a hugely accomplished female cast who act out their roles with some seriously personal vested interest.
The film opens with Mulligan, who plays Maud, working in a shirt and laundry factory, a setting that immediately invokes memories of the early scenes of Les Mis and has you wondering if Anne Hathaway might make a guest appearance. In fact, the whole tone of the movie is very Mis-esque: bleak, but empowering; infuriating, but undeniably true. However, to compare the two very separate events in European history is relatively moot, so I will draw no further parallels except to say the setting may seem eerily similar, and the fight, similarly astonishing.
It’s just a shame that this film wasn’t a bit better. I’m not saying I hated or even disliked Shame, but it had the potential to be a great film that handles an issue that is rarely discussed and is entirely taboo. One thing, for sure, that impressed me about Shame was the way that it made me actually feel the shame and remorse and immense self-loathing that Brandon experienced on an hourly basis. That was powerful, and I mainly attribute that to the sheer talent of one of my favorite actors, Michael Fassbender. In his second collaboration with the talented Steve McQueen, Fassbender is almost frightening. When he attacks his visiting sister in nothing but a bath towel (one that is starting to fall down, at that) and begins screaming in her face, I genuinely felt like he might have lost his mind. His rage, which clearly stems from his own unimaginably great disappointment in and repulsion of himself, is fairly constant and, while far less intense than that of his later performance as a plantation owner in McQueen’s follow-up film 12 Years A Slave, is shocking.
At the same time, Fassbender is also wise to portray Brandon thoroughly enjoying the acts that ultimately lead to his frustration. This is vital to his performance because it is clear that the film is attempting to show that sex addiction is, in fact, an addiction. It is an affliction, much like alcoholism or drug addiction. Brandon is not a freak, he’s not a pervert…he is suffering. But, as all addicts do, Brandon enjoys doing these acts while he is doing them. Just because a cocaine addict might desperately want to stop using the drug, this doesn’t mean that he will suddenly no longer enjoy cocaine when he does use it. In order to achieve the goal that this film is trying to accomplish, Fassbender needs to be as dead-on as possible. He nails it.