Directed by Nicolas Winding Refn. Starring Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan, Bryan Cranston, Albert Brooks, Ron Perlman.
Yes it won the director’s award at the Cannes Film Festival this year. And the critics love it. There is indeed a lot to like about Danish director Nicolas Refn’s spin on noir and pulp. Right from the opening creds in bright pink and synthesizer music reminiscent of films from the 80s you’re sort of already ‘wanting’ to like this film. As the titular driver (Gosling) waits for two burglars to do their deed and vamoose you see his cool, calculated demeanour. Then his deft moves with the getaway car, using stealth rather than speed to outmanoeuvre the police, and you realise this will be no ordinary car chase or race film.
He’s not a regular getaway car driver. His day job involves driving stunt cars for Hollywood. And working at buddy Shannon’s (Cranston) garage. His interest isn’t a vamp but his demure neighbour Irene (Mulligan) and her son, whose father is in jail (but he’ll be out shortly). The driver spends time with them, developing a subtle bond with mother and son. Of course when the father (Oscar Isaac) comes home, he isn’t too kicked about the new friendship. But he has other fish to fry. And to get him out of a jam and protect his family, the driver undertakes a heist with him that eventually goes horribly wrong.
Double crosses, faces getting blown off and the upto-now-reticent driver letting loose all kinds of violence ratchet up what started out as a slow-paced drama. It’s like this movie never really goes into full-throttle in seconds. It gradually picks up pace, with its strange but amazing original soundtrack (Cliff Martinez). The shots are brilliant, effortless and almost artistic. Gosling’s performance has been compared to Steve McQueen. Perhaps. But I could tell even from rom-com Crazy, Stupid, Love that this guy was going places. Not only does he look good, but his lackadaisical eyes, sometimes blank at other times replete with emotion, his effortless charm, restrained passion, all spoke of a deep talent.
There are times during the film when I did wonder where it was all going. Why this languorous pace. Why does this man do these things: both good and bad? The in-your-face violence, blades hacking at limbs, forks being thrust into eyes, a face being smashed up under a heel, all come out at you out of the blue but without pretence. There’s a scene where Gosling and Irene are in an elevator with a bad guy. Our driver notices the gun in his holster, and in slo-mo he pushed Irene back and then deep kisses her as the lighting in the lift changes mood; seconds pass as they are locked in bliss and then… the driver whacks the bad guy to the floor, smashing his head in like a grape. Does this rage come solely from his overwhelming affection towards this troubled woman? One of a couple of points you ponder about this film.
I wasn’t impressed with the chase sequences but then it isn’t really about that.