When Nicolas Winding Refn released Drive in 2011 multiple pop-culture phenomena occurred. Firstly, an obsession with satin-style jackets (often sporting an animal, insect, or indeed a scorpion), and secondly, the popularisation of vaporwave, with the film’s soundtrack providing the perfect background music to any millennial creative. Indeed, Refn’s modern thriller is more than just a smart action movie.
Starring Ryan Gosling as the enigmatic Hollywood stuntman known simply as ‘Driver’, he is joined by Bryan Cranston, Carey Mulligan and Oscar Isaac in this ingenious film about repressed violence and emotional distress. Whilst life for each of these characters is rather quiet at the start of the film, a domestic dispute sparks violence for Gosling’s character as he comes to blows with Albert Brooks’ sinister gangster, Bernie Rose.
Brutal, remorseless and deeply intimidating, Brooks brings a terrifying villainy to the character of Bernie Ross and creates one of the film’s most memorable moments in the process, when he (spoilers) brutally murders Cranston’s Shannon with insidious charm. Having featured in Taxi Driver by director Martin Scorsese as well as Out of Sight by Steven Soderbergh, Brooks has learned from the best and shows off impressive professionalism in front of the camera.
As one of the most sinister villains of contemporary cinema, Brooks dedicated himself to the role of Bernie Rose, even shaving off his eyebrows in the film to appear more intimidating and minimise any sort of emotional expression.
Speaking to Interview Magazine about this shocking decision, Brooks stated, “I knew what I wanted the character to look like. I had make-up people that I work with on my movies, and I went to work. I emailed him photos, and I would wait with baited breath”. Writing back to the actor to convey his own thoughts, Brooks recalls Refn saying “terrific!” when he saw Brooks without eyebrows.
As the director of several movies including Lost in America from 1985, Brooks knows what it’s like to work with an actor from behind the camera, telling the publication, “You want the actor to come at you with these thoughts, because the actor’s going to be the one who has to actually say the words and play it”. Speaking about his thoughts behind his Drive character, Brooks added, “I knew how I wanted Bernie to look. There’s a style in which you walk, and look, and what kind of jewellery you wear”.
Nicolas Winding Refn hasn’t quite been able to replicate the same success he had with Drive since the release of the film in 2011, despite trying multiple times. Also starring Ryan Gosling, Only God Forgives failed to rouse audiences in 2013, whilst his experimental criticism of contemporary fame with The Neon Demon also created little critical noise when it was released in 2016.
Drive remains his contemporary masterpiece, and Albert Brooks may indeed show off the film’s greatest performance.