I remember being shown the movie Drive by a girl I was dating at the time, thinking it was just going to be another ode to how pretty Ryan Gosling is, and being pleasantly surprised at how overall amazing this film truly is. Fantastic acting, nuanced storyline, and great action aside, the lighting in this movie really stands out.
The feel of the lighting in Drive jumps between film noir at night and 70s west coast style during the day, creating a sense of duplicity within the film. They apply the same sort of technique to lighting the main character, a mild-mannered and kind stunt driver during the day while moonlighting as a cold and calculated getaway driver for hire at night.
In scenes where Gosling’s character is meant to be seen as kindhearted and innocent, the lighting on his face becomes more broad, sometimes in full lighting but often in a closed loop setup with a touch of backlighting from a set of large windows, as seen in the shot below. In this scene, Ryan speaks to a mother and her child who just moved into the building, coming across as a gentle and well-mannered neighbor.
In the shot below, Ryan’s character (listed simply as “Driver” in the credits), is mid-interrogation, attempting to intimidate someone who had hired him to work under false pretenses. Here we see a much more extreme lighting, with the key light being played by the Motel room window to his left, and a faint kicker along his right cheek. That kicker plays a huge part in making him seem strong and intimidating, lighting up his jaw and cheekbones while leaving his face mostly in darkness.
In the future, I plan to shoot lots of music videos and action sequences, so this will be an extremely helpful technique when it comes to making performers and actors look as intimidating and powerful as possible. I’m realizing that I’ve previously used too much light, and using one or two sources for a higher contrast effect would have been better than simply filling the scene with light. As shown in the bottom screenshot, a little darkness on the face can go a long way.
The bottom screenshot is a sequence where Ryan's character is in a full on fight, the key light is the elevator light to his right, and he's getting backlit and an almost kicker from the ceiling lights as he's looking down. I felt I had to include this shot for one reason; the walls of the elevator seem to be a sort of semi-reflective brushed aluminum, yet the front of his face isn't being lit at all. I'm under the impression that they actually put a negative fill on the wall in front of him, actively removing the light from his face for a higher contrast effect.
Refn, N. W. (Director). (2011, August 9). Drive - Movie Trailer (2011) HD [Video file]. Retrieved March 1, 2017, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KBiOF3y1W0Y