You can’t un-see what you’ve seen, and that can be a damn shame, especially when what you want to un-see was awesome. If you’ve listened to any of the Cult Film Club episodes you’ll know that I’m a huge fan of Nicholas Winding Refn’s 2011 film Drive. The 80s synth-inspired soundtrack, the film’s color palette, the silence between characters, the tension, the violence, Albert Brooks playing against type, I love it all. Right now though, I would give just about anything to have not seen the film. Why? Well, I just finished watching Walter Hill’s 1978 film The Driver for the first time and no matter how hard I try I can’t stop comparing the two flicks.
I love movies, and these days I find that most of the stuff that I really want to see was made at least 25 years ago. There are hundreds of films on my to-watch list, stuff that I was too you to catch the first time around, or stuff that I just wasn’t old enough to appreciate. When I go back and catch up with these flicks it can be really difficult to try block out all of the modern films that have built off of these older works. The first time I saw Citizen Kane I was not blown away. In fact I was bored out of my skull. I couldn’t appreciate the grand effect that it had had on practically everything that came after it, so much so that it I truly felt like I’d seen the film before. I can’t even being to imagine what it was like for audiences to see that film with fresh eyes.
In the case of The Driver though, it’s heart wrenching because of only one film. Drive. The two flicks have so much shared DNA. The concept of the nameless hero known only as The Driver, a loner who saves every penny, lives on the super cheap, and has very strict rules when taking a job. Ryan O’Neal, Ryan Gosling, these guys are like flip sides of a coin. Both made a name for themselves with blockbuster romantic comedies (Love Story and The Notebook), and both play the strong silent type well. Both films begin with a heist shown to specifically illustrate the talents of the hero. Both feature a heist that is doomed to go wrong, and both heroes know it, and do it anyway. Both films feature a sadistic villain that ends up killing the hero’s confidant in a disturbing manner, and both have a very similar, slightly ambiguous bittersweet ending. There is one difference though, and that’s that Drive is simply a better movie than The Driver.
This kills me because I love Walter Hill, and with a few exceptions I pretty much adore all of his films. The Warriors, Streets of Fire and Hard Times are three of my all-time favorite flicks, movies that I can re-watch constantly. Unfortunately there were a few flicks that I just hadn’t made the time to see yet, and The Driver was one of them. Now I can’t help but wonder how I would have felt had I not seen Drive this past year. I mean, the concepts alone should have won me over. Would I have been able to look past Isabelle Adjani’s seriously wooden performance (it was so bad it made Sherilyn Fenn’s Keri in The Wraith seem Oscar-worthy in comparison) and the weak character actors that pepper the flick? Would the weak writing concerning The Detective’s (Bruce Dern) grand plan to trap the Driver have been easier to swallow had I never seen Albert Brooks lock horns with Ryan Gosling? I don’t know, and I’ll never know.
All I know for sure is that some days I want to wipe the slate completely clean and start my movie watching from scratch. Forget about time travel, when are they going to invent the mind wipe procedure from Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind?