Drive's Judaism

· Joanthan Poritsky

⇓ Updated October 20, 2011 in the comments. ⇓

This morning I posted a piece over at Heeb Magazine about Sarah Deming, a Michigan woman suing FilmDistrict, distributors of Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive, over being misled into seeing a film.

That’s a great and ridiculous story to run with from the start, but there’s more. The Hollywood Reporter reports:

“Drive bore very little similarity to a chase, or race action film… having very little driving in the motion picture,” the suit continues. “Drive was a motion picture that substantially contained extreme gratuitous defamatory dehumanizing racism directed against members of the Jewish faith, and thereby promoted criminal violence against members of the Jewish faith.”

I kept things light and funny over at Heeb, but I have to be honest, this stuff really pisses me off. I’m offended as a film lover, as an American and as a Jew. Where to begin?

L et’s start with the whole misleading trailer business. This is what happens when we put all our faith in movie trailers and Rotten Tomato scores; this is what happens when our culture abandons hope that an act of cinema might occur when the lights go down. I’ve resisted doing trailer reviews for as long as I’ve been blogging because I know how and why they are made. Trailers are marketing tools that generally have nothing to do with the filmmaker or the final work.

While there is an art to cutting a trailer, it’s important to recognize that, usually, trailer editors are given a set amount of footage hand-picked by the marketing department. Sometimes they get explicit instructions how to cut the piece and often don’t get to see the whole film before they begin. That’s because trailers are a marketing tool designed to get butts in seats and that’s all. Is it misleading to put all of Drive’s action into the trailer? Not at all. You want more information before you go see it? Read a review.

As to the implication that Drive is anti-semitic, I’d counter Deming’s accusation with this argument: Refn’s film is perhaps one of the most positive Jewish films in 2011. There is a long history of victimization of Jews in cinema, so I’m impressed whenever I see a film that puts power in the hands of some Hebrews. The characters in question, Bernie (Albert Brooks) and Nino (Ron Perlman) are mobsters looking to make a dent in the business of their gentile counterparts.

Their religion, or rather their culture, is what redeems them, what makes them worthy adversaries to Ryan Gosling’s nameless Driver. Why is Nino such a son- of-a-bitch? Because he’s been trying to make it ahead in a world where he gets called “kike” and slapped around. That backstory is what makes him relatable, what makes him something more than a throw-away baddie.

If that’s not enough to bring you around to liking the film then that’s fine, but don’t come out swinging with misinformed accusations because you’re annoyed. There’s plenty to hate in Drive. Frankly I thought the film was more violent than I expected. I even agree that there wasn’t enough driving given the film’s title. But so what? If I can’t get my money back for The Scorpion King then, Sarah, you can’t have your money back for Drive. Get a clue or stop going to the movies.