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There will be blood

Battle Royale Drive

Battle Royale and Drive

This review focuses on two controversial films.  Battle Royale is controversial in a conventional way, driving people to ask whether it’s a good thing to make a film in which children murder one another.  Drive causes controversy by being made in an unusual way, by making a movie that doesn’t follow the usual rules regarding dialogue or sound–it has remarkably little of either.  A few thoughts:

  • Both films punctuate more mundane moments with brief salvos of intense violence.  While viewers expect such chaos in BR, it comes as a bit of a surprise in Drive, particularly given the film’s languid opening 45 minutes.  The violence is extreme, bloody, and disconcerting.  Battle Royale‘s most harrowing scene, for my money, comes when a group of young women suddenly turn on one another and turn their small hideout into a bloodbath.  Drive‘s most terrible sequence arrives in an elevator, where we see just how far the driver will go.
  • Drive functions, cinematically, much like driving itself — a mostly interesting but not thrilling pursuit occasionally marked with moments of intensity.  BR makes real the vicious landscape of the middle school classroom, in which enmities and alliances shift easily with the wind, and almost no one escapes unscathed.
  • Both films seem very much like other films.  Like a select group of nerds across the Internet, when I first heard of The Hunger Games, I thought to myself “Sounds like Battle Royale.”  <hipster cred=”firsties”>Unlike most of those doing the whining,  I had that thought in 2008 when the novel was reviewed in Entertainment Weekly.</hipster> Suzanne Collins claims she was unaware of the Japanese sensation, and I believe her.  But the basic premise — school-age children are put in a ring, manipulated by game masters, and made to fight to the death — sounds awfully similar.  The biggest difference between the two is that Battle Royale‘s 40 fighters have personal history that shapes their interactions (creating lots more moments for meaningful character development), whereas The Hunger Games has 24 fighters without intimacies among them.
  • Drive at first appears to be a close relative of The Transporter.  The opening scene, especially, has the same ring to it — a driver who has particular tastes and habits and can, at a moment’s notice, become the most badass wheel man out there.  Both films also involve fisticuffs on the part of the driver and a surprising connection to an innocent.  (In fact, I would group these movies together with The Professional and Shoot Em Up as films about tough-guy loners who become fond of little kids.  What the heck, throw in Man on Fire as well.)  But Drive also uses contemplative cinematography and the forgotten art of silence to craft a meditative character whose persona becomes evident through his deeds rather than his words.
  • In both films, the ultimate villain is a rather kindly man in his mid-late fifties or early sixties.  He’s got a capacity for intense violence, but ultimately seems driven by other motives, and resorts to killing not because he wants to, but because the system he occupies demands it.  Both figures also have an affinity for knives.

Both films are well worth watching, for different reasons.  Drive is an excellent film, very atmospheric.  Its non-driving scenes sparkle, and its cinematography make the movie.  Battle Royale makes a great companion piece to The Hunger Games, taking the question of children and violence a bit more carefully than does its more famous recent counterpart.  It also doesn’t shy away from depicting the violence at the heart of the story.

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