If it's crap ... We'll tell you
In today's world, it is so hard to distinguish oneself as a filmmaker with a unique story to tell that reinvents the wheel in a way that suits both the casual viewer and the film buff who is constantly looking to be surprised by what cinema can provide for them. That is one of the brilliant things about Nicolas Winding Refn's mind that makes him such a promising filmmaker who has an incredible vision about what movies are capable of. He's been compared to some of the greats including Stanley Kubrick and David Lynch and there is a certain amount of truth in that because his vision is unlike any other director working in Hollywood today.
It works on every level and it's very difficult to discern exactly why it works but that's what makes this film special. Only a select few have managed to appeal to the mainstream while also reinventing the formula for particular kinds of stories such as Pulp Fiction, The Matrix, Fight Club, Memento, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and Inception among many others but this film manages to make itself stand apart from all of the other action films out there. It goes to prove that you don't need superheroes, aliens, robots or bizarre monsters to make a great movie. You don't need to have the chaotic intensity of Michael Bay or the grandiose ambitions of Christopher Nolan to make a compelling action film. If anything, audiences have been so used to all of the films that try to copy Bay or Nolan's style that it's quite refreshing to see an action film that looks like it could have been made by a truly masterful director like Scorsese, Tarantino, Cronenberg, Kubrick, or in this case, Refn. It truly offers people something new by showing us a main character who we know little about but still get a feeling for who he is just by the way the film is put together. In this case, it's a classically told crime film that is shown through the eyes of someone who has antisocial personality disorder. While the audience is never told that the Driver has antisocial personality disorder, it comes across like this by presenting extended periods of silence followed by extraordinarily extreme acts of violence and this was a brilliant move made by both Refn and screenwriter Hossein Amini because it's truly something that hasn't really been done before.
But the film wouldn't have been as effective without the raw and powerful performance of Ryan Gosling as the Driver! With this film, Gosling proves that he's much more than just the guy from The Notebook or the other Mouseketeer (apart from Justin Timberlake, Britney Spears, and Christina Aguilera). He truly shows everyone with effortless ability that he's able to hold your attention whilst making you laugh, cry or scream. No matter what the role requires him to do, he has a way of getting to where he needs to go in order for the audience to buy him as the character and then he takes it to 11 by making the role his very own and no one else's. At this point in his career, he's made himself into the consummate Hollywood icon for the next generation. He's also picked up where someone like Heath Ledger left off. Both men started off on well-known television programs, made their early splash of success as the pretty golden boys of the new generation, quietly detracted from that image by playing more intense and complex characters in independent films, starred as the romantic leads of some of the greatest romantic films of the past decade, and then caught on to films that would satisfy their artistic standards and place their name on the global map for everyone to see at the same time except that Ryan Gosling's career seems to be only beginning to take an extraordinary shape (unlike Ledger's who was taken from us way too early, may he rest in peace). Either way, Gosling totally owns every single frame that he's in despite not saying or doing too much of anything. That's how compelling he is to watch but like any great film, he's not the only actor to stand out.
Every single actor fits into this film. Carey Mulligan has to be one of the sweetest looking actresses to come along in a long time and everything that she does is just filled with an incredibly earnest touch that's very uncommon in modern Hollywood and she's just fantastic. Oscar Isaac, who plays her delinquent husband, offers a surprisingly layered performance that really tells the audience what is at stake when it comes to his situation and his entire existence in the story justifies absolutely everything that the Driver does, no matter how bloody it gets, and it's not because of what he's doing; it's because of what he's not going to do. Now that is some brilliant writing and a beautiful piece of characterization. While Bryan Cranston and Ron Perlman both pull off their parts with effortless skill, it's Albert Brooks who goes above and beyond what anybody expected of him. What's more unbelievable is that he makes it look too easy which is the greatest strength of any great actor. This is not the Albert Brooks that people my age remember. He is not at all like Marlin from Finding Nemo. He's not the caring dad who is willing to swim the entire globe to find his son. If anything, he's the cold-blooded, careless, calculated schemer who will do anything to get rid of anyone who might be considered a threat to him even if it means hiring several men to constantly chase a man who's fled from his jurisdiction (oddly enough) but owes him badly in whatever debt they owe to him. His chilling performance reminds you of the really dangerous people in this world and how utterly evil they can be. While the Driver may look cold and stoic on the outside, it's all to contain a hot-blooded rage that would literally destroy anything or anybody that happened to get in its way. Brooks' Bernie Rose makes for a perfect opposite as he puts on the façade of a funny man who appears to be friendly when he truly cares for no one but himself at his deepest core and there's nothing more disturbing than a man whose smile and laugh can be so warm and inviting but whose eyes are so colourless that they would unnerve someone with even the tiniest glimpse of them.
Even though there is a lot of deep and meaningful subtext that really adds to the overall feeling of the film, it would take several viewings to really talk about the film's themes and concepts since they are so rich and complex. Thankfully there is enough on the surface for people who don't necessarily like films like this to enjoy. Newman Thomas Sigel's photography is unbelievably gorgeous and beautifully colourful. While there is a lot of deeper commentary going on throughout the film, the majority of the story is told visually and a lot of the images pop out like a comic book come to life from the 1970s or the 1980s. What's most impressive about the cinematography is that it reminds you of the iconic neon-filled imagery of the 1980s whilst feeling very modern at the same time and it would have to take almost a photographic mindset to really capture that feeling and not have it feel forced which this film does masterfully. Another thing that really adds to the film's character is the sound and just like the quality of the image itself, the sound is crisp and clean. The crackling of the police radio, the skids of the car tires, the bangs of gunfire, and even the squishes of blood and gore are recorded in such a way that the events you're seeing on screen feel like they're actually happening in real time as you're watching it happen. Speaking of blood and gore, since this film is one that is told through the eyes of someone with antisocial personality disorder, the moments of violence that occur in this film are graphically jaw-dropping. However, since the image and sound are so perfectly synced, the potentially disturbing acts of violence turn into the most beautiful looking explosions of vibrant paint colours that you will ever see! By presenting the film this way, one could finally understand why certain psychotics would believe that there is a certain artistic beauty in seeing geysers of blood explode as the life force of a person disappears in a single millisecond of glorious creation of destruction. It's only afterwards that some of them see the effects of such things and feel the gravity of reality sinking in and start to panic whether it be on the inside or out. That's why we get a feeling as the Driver does that while it feels good to see and feel that instant gratification, we need to instantly clean up and get rid of the evidence fast and even then we can't really be sure that we're completely free of that loss of control or reality and so we become all the more uneasy on the inside. In the end, we understand their view and see that that's the price of living such a life that's considered unacceptable by society. To constantly live on the edge and not knowing what's going to happen next or to do what the rule book restricts you to do. Yet few films like the Driver himself (as a psychotic person) manage to keep the uneasiness in silence at all times and that is what elevates this film to truly being great.
One could go on and on about how beautifully crafted this film is and how future generations will refer to it as a masterpiece in neo-noir and action but that would only delay people from discovering this gem before it risks fading into obscurity. It gets the best out of every actor, it's beautifully shot, exquisitely detailed, wonderfully thought-provoking, audibly reverberating, artistically violent, and it never wastes a single second of your life because before you know it, it will be over. So the film knows to cherish itself for your own sake while it's still there and that's what movies are all about.
Rating: Better Than Sex!!!