We reviewed Drive back in our Married to Max days. I appreciated it more than Michael because I was taken in by the neo-noir, pastel, Vice City style of it. But I had a hard time really nailing down what might have been so striking about it.
As he often does these days, Tony Zhou has an answer for me now in his most recent Every Frame a Painting. In it he examines the way that director Nicolas Winding Refn uses quadrants of the screen to create relationships, dualities, and meaning.
In the shot below, Irene shows the Driver her apartment. The quadrant system highlights two things: on the right-left axis, it shows her considering her attraction to the Driver; on the top-bottom axis, to shows the dilemma of this attraction–the Driver in conflict with her absent husband and the child they have together. The top half tells the story of her current attraction while the bottom half tells the story of her responsibilities.
I’ve traditionally understood the screen like any composition, with the Rule of Thirds being tantamount to placement choices for actors and props of significance. But it would make sense that directors would flex and break this rule for a variety of surprising effects.
In addition to that, many cinematographers and directors seek to balance their shots between left, right, top, bottom, foreground, and background. But what Zhou shows in this short video essay is just how deliberate and surprising the compositional choices are in Drive. Check it out.