A truly beautiful and hypnotic film.
I've seen the last few Nicholas Winding Refn films, and while I liked
both Bronson and Valhalla Rising a lot, they were both "difficult"
films, in that both structure, pacing and tone were bound to alienate
some people, and of course they were both marketed as somewhat
mainstream films while being anything but.
Part of the irony of Refn's situation is that he makes films about
"Primal" man- and these protagonists invariably commit acts of great
violence on those around them. This violence puts his films into the
genre categories that Hollywood recognises and promotes to the public,
resulting in trailers for Refn movies that grossly misrepresent the
sophistication of the actual film. In that way, Valhalla's intense,
slow-burning and almost dialogue-free mythic exploration of our savage
past can be repackaged as a "Vlad the Viking goes to the New World"
Yet both Valhalla and Bronson were highly "directed" films, revealing a
very strong hand in control of the material. And so, I was extremely
curious to see what Refn would do with the material, and whether he
would be able to rein in his sometimes obtrusive style in order to
allow the story more room to breathe... I shouldn't have worried. I
think the director has managed to balance a genuine artistry with the
demands of the genre in a way that is rarely, if ever, achieved. I
absolutely loved it. Just stay the hell away from the trailer, as it
reveals far too much, and again, misrepresents the film's true "feel".
Driver has a tone of wry amusement at everything around it, much like
Gosling's half-smirk, pivoted on the toothpick perpetually in the
corner of his mouth. Schmucky gangsters and mob clichés provide some
laughs, but the heart of the film is Gosling's portrayal of the
unnamed? main character and his sweet, underplayed romance with
Mulligan and her young son.
While an ethereal synthesizer-pop soundtrack provides an at-times
tender,at-times mythic undercurrent, the car chases and action scenes,
when they come, are tense, brutal and brief- far more Eastern Promises
than The Transporter. Mulligan plays her character all trembly,
wet-eyed, sweet and innocent and is swept away by Gosling's quiet
strength and self-assured charm, while Gosling speaks little and
remains a mystery to the end, though we never doubt his fundamentally
The seasoned supporting cast are all very fun, except maybe for
Kendricks who is relegated to a fairly irrelevant part. Of course, this
is really Gosling's film, and he inhabits the character completely,
turning what could be a straightforward Hollyood tough-guy role into a
complex and contradictory character, self-confident and physical, yet
clearly lonely and possessed with a certain peculiarity and stillness,
almost reminiscent of De Niro's Travis Bickle.
Visually the film is lush and gorgeous. Like Michael Mann, Refn and his
cinematographer are able to instill LA with a sense of life and
character that most directors just fail to do. Unlike Mann however,
Refn opts for warm orange tones over Mann's hard blues, and in one
particularly beautiful sequence the familiar LA cliché of driving down
the dry LA river is taken to an unexpectedly joyful conclusion.
Despite its absolute craftsmanship, Driver is probably not for
everybody, which makes me sad. People who prefer bald-headed muscle men
slugging and wise-cracking their way into their wallets should of
course stay away, as this bears very little resemblance to the standard
Hollywood fare associated with the genre, and they might well be
But for me, Driver was sweet, surreal, mythic, tense, fun, hilarious,
revolting, and surprising. See it because it will make you a better
And so, 10 out of 10, because it deserves it.