James Bowman reviews Drive here, and gives us a clue about why some of us can’t gin up much interest in films anymore:
Strange, isn’t it, that the more (officially) pacifistic and non-violent our society becomes, the more incendiary and warlike our political rhetoric is? I wonder if there could be any connection with the movies’ penchant for seeking out new but politically correct ways to idolize men of violence? The seemingly endless string of celluloid superheroes is one example. They earn their right to murder and mayhem through their inhumanity. They belong to a master race of their own and live in a world which allows them to operate according to different rules and with a different morality from the rest of us. Vigilante justice in real life, administered by any mere mortal like ourselves, would be in the highest degree unacceptable, but we don’t call it that when superheroes do it. Of course the price we pay for our superheroes is having to live in toon-town with them to the extent that we take them to any degree seriously.
But there are other ways to revive the old sense of honor attaching to killers. The precursor of the cartoon hero in the movies was the cool hero played by the Steve McQueens and the Clint Eastwoods (before the real-life Clint turned into a morally earnest director) of old and their later imitators: men who earned their right to violent methods by being outsiders, lone men of integrity standing up to a corrupt system. Their violence is sanitized partly by being stylized, like that of the cartoon hero, and partly because they are seen as existing in a state of Hobbesian nature where civilized alternatives to violence are either corrupt or not available. The trope of the lone honest man fighting a corrupt system has become rather a cliché, however, so cool heroes mostly go heavy on the stylization — which means that there is a certain sameness to them.