A heist/action film does not at first glance seem like the type that Ryan Gosling (though he does have the abs to be an action star), Bryan Cranston (of Breaking Bad fame) and Carey Mulligan would be interested in doing. But once you see the film you understand why they were attracted to it. Danish born, New York City raised director Nicolas Winding Refn’s film is filled with tension and incredible driving scenes from the very first scenes, but it is really an art-house film at heart. Yes, it is an action film that wants you to get to know and understand its characters. They are not just mindless hulks that wander through life robbing banks and driving fast; they are well-rounded out human beings with emotions and motivations behind their actions.
Driver (yes, that is his name – Ryan Gosling – Blue Valentine, Crazy, Stupid, Love) is a stuntman and also a driver for hire. If you have a bank heist that you need to get away from he is your man. He works primarily for mob guy Bernie Rose (Albert Brooks – Taxi Driver, Defending Your Life) as his getaway driver. A quite guy, Driver is basically a loner.
He meets his next-door neighbour Irene (Carey Mulligan – An Education, Never Let Me Go), whose husband is in jail. There is an instantaneous attraction between the two. He becomes quite protective of Irene and her son Benicio (Kaden Leos – first film). Unfortunately that is when Irene’s husband Standard (Oscar Isaac – Body of Lies, Sucker Punch) is released from jail. Standard hires Driver to work for him. This is also when it all starts to go bad for our hero. Due to his new job, Driver finds himself the target of a hit. He also knows that Irene is in danger as the gangsters will not think twice about hurting her to get to him.
A mixture of action and psychology, that is made possible by the camera angles/cinematography, acting of Ryan Gosling who inhabits his basically nonverbal character, the scintillating soundtrack, and an interesting mix of dark humour and graphic violence, is how you can best sum up this film. Basically it all adds up to a fantastic film that moves to the forefront of modern attempts at film noir.
Ryan Gosling once again proves that he is one of the more talented actors of his generation. A difficult role in that his character does not speak much, so he has to convey a lot through body language and his eyes. He never overdoes it either. There will be a slight tightening of his jaw and his eyes will open a touch. Nothing drastic. A simple look by Gosling speaks volumes. Every time he moves his body it is so natural you forget it is an actor up there. Throughout the film I kept thinking that his character was an interesting mixture of several Steve McQueen characters along with Robert DeNiro’s Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver. Turns what could have been a one dimensional character into a nuanced and complex man.
The car chases are right up there with classic ones from Ronin or French Connection. Violence that is pervasive and powerful. It is a film that Quentin Tarantino wishes he could make. The camera angles that are used bring you into the middle of what is going on. Whether it is an emotional moment or an action sequence, you are surrounded by what is going on. You almost feel voyeuristic at times.
Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn has exploded onto the scene with a film that will have you transfixed and completely absorbed for the entirety of its hour and forty minute run time. Though there is an abundance of action and violence the film is a rather subtle one with deliberate pacing and long takes. The technical aspects of the film are top notch. A unique voice in film and I cannot wait to see his next.