Wednesday, 28 September 2011


2011. Dir: Nicolas Winding Refn. Starring: Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan, Bryan Cranston, Ron Perlman and Albert Brooks. ●●●○○

I saw two films this weekend, one after another, I struggled to choose which one to review first. Would it be the one that I was anticipating the most, the one with better reviews, the one I liked best or the one I was most disappointed by (try and guess what my score tomorrow will be) but in the end I went for Drive the film I saw first. Neatly packaged and uniquely stylish Nicolas Winding Refn's ode to the 80's action flicks of Michael Mann and Walter Hill is a tight surprising affair that fully justifies the Best Director prize at Cannes, but alas all the flashy work seems to obscure this picture has nothing to say.

At the heart of the story is a touching tentative romance between part-time stunt man, part-time getaway driver Ryan Gosling (an iconic man with no name) and his seemingly single mother neighbour Carey Mulligan. Their late night joy rides (yes that is his idea of a date) are interrupted by her jailed hubby (Oscar Isaac) getting released and doing one last job to pay off a mob debt. Naturally Gosling gets pulled in and it all spirals out of control.

There are some delightful scenes, whether it's Gosling and Mulligan's first kiss, romantic, artificial but softly lit, projected in slowmotion before the punctuation of extreme grotesque violence that is excessive but not gratuitous. There's a slow conversation between limping mechanic Bryan Cranston and his old friend criminal kingpin Albert Brooks (both of whom are at the top of their game) with weary Brooks nicely contrasting Cranston's forced chirpiness. The two car chases, the first which accentuates the professionalism and chess like prowess of Gosling in out foxing the police, whilst the second showcases pure speed when faced with a bulkier and more agressive persuer.

These scenes and more are prove Winding Refn is one of the more exciting action directors working today, each beat drags the story forward, each shot adds more to the character development.

Gosling probably gives the most persuasive performance, agonising over the line deliveries, icy cool behind the wheel but visually disturbed when making a phone call, he's a man who only feels real to himself when behind the wheel, shifting through the gears. Christina Hendricks also does fine in a minor role as a gangster's moll, fully realising the panic in the back seat during a car chase.

Each shot and edit is carefully selected to create and accentuate the mood, even the neon pink title cards evoke memories of rolled up jacket sleeves, and whilst the superficial allusions to Arthurian mythology and underlying artificiality and desire to be a film character are racked up there's nothing behind this facade. The scarcity of back story (and it's not just Gosling with gaps) and plot holes - there's a particular piece of information which a character clearly knows before he is told - indicate that Winding Refn is more focussed on the style than the substance.

I suppose the problem was I just didn't care about any of the characters, their futures seemed destined by the format, decisions appear unrelated to rational decision making. At the end I didn't want to know what happened in the next 20 minutes, always a barometer about whether the film works for me. I suppose I can grudgingly recommend the film, it's pretentious arsty aesthetic has been collecting a legion of fans, but don't expect to be engaged beyond the visually arresting moment.

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