Greetings again from the darkness. An art-house crime drama. That’s the best description I can come up with. Danish film auteur Nicolas Winding Refn takes the James Sallis novel and presents it like an art gallery opening … with operatic tendencies … and electronic music thumping straight out of the 80’s. Confused yet? My apologies, but I am trying to make the point that this one is different. No wonder it got such a strong reception at Cannes, where creativity has always been rewarded.
Ryan Gosling stars as the nameless driver. He is a movie stunt driver by day and hired lead foot in his spare time. He partners with hustler Bryan Cranston (“Breaking Bad”) for the odd-jobs and they both dream of going straight by entering the racing world. To do that, they need a capital infusion from bad guy Albert Brooks. Yep, I said BAD GUY Albert Brooks. We all know Mr. Brooks as the wry comedian who makes us laugh at the world. However, trust me when I say he plays a really bad man. If you have seen Out of Sight, you have seen this side before. If not, you will be shocked.
Gosling’s character is quite the loner, but he falls for his neighbor played by Carey Mulligan, who has a cute young son. Gosling’s dream of normal include not only racing, but also a domestic home life with these two. Small obstacle: Mulligan’s husband (Oscar Isaac) is getting out of prison in a week. When he arrives, Gosling agrees to help him square a debt with some bad guys. Things don’t go so well and Gosling’s dream of domestic bliss goes straight to Hades. Well, actually not all that straight.
As they tend to do, the bad guys (including Ron Perlman) run a double-cross and things get really messy. The middle 60% of this movie is as intense and thrilling as you could ever ask. Some terrific driving stunts as expected, but also some very nice “little” scenes as these most interesting characters try to make sense of many tattered loose ends. Refn’s camera work and lighting are very stylish, providing a noir look and the perfect feel.
My mind was racing as I watched this oddly paced, minimal dialogue, intense story unfold. A few films flashed in my mind and I have decided there are elements of each: Bullitt (1968, Peter Yates), The Driver (1978 Walter Hill), Thief (1981 Michael Mann), To Live and Die in LA (1985 William Friedkin), and Heat (1995 Michael Mann). Additionally, Gosling’s character shares some traits with Clint Eastwood’s ‘Man with No Name’. Now I am sure you are confused. How about one more: Gosling wears a jacket similar to Kurt Russell‘s Stuntman Mike in Death Proof, only this one has an embroidered scorpion and sure enough, we get the scorpion and frog story.
Gosling gives a very solid strong, silent type leading man performance, and Mulligan has very little to do. Albert Brooks will probably get some well deserved attention at Oscar time. There are a couple of scenes that more and make this one worth seeing. One is the fantastic chase scene after the pawn shop robbery and the other is the most beautifully choreographed and violent elevator scene ever filmed, complete with mood lighting!
This one will be loved or hated by those that see it. Hard to imagine it falling in the gray area. If you are up for a twist on the traditional approach to crime dramas, and can handle some brutal violence, I would encourage you to check it out.
SEE THIS MOVIE IF: you are a fan of any of the movies I listed above OR you want to see Albert Brooks’ Oscar worthy performance as one really bad man
SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: anything described as an art house crime drama prompts an eye-rolling OR you think the hoodlum movie genre should have died off in the 70’s
watch the trailer: