29 September, 2011


Runtime: 95 mins Director: Nicolas Winding RefnCast

Review by Dan Collacott

Coming to a film that's already garnered an epic shock wave of media praise and male awe is always a difficult prospect. For one thing it's never going to meet the lofty expectations promised by those critics who have already loudly and homoerotically lauded the performance of Ryan Gosling and direction of Nicolas Winding Refncast. So it was with a sense of overburdened inevitably that this tense pulp action thriller fell a fair way short for me.

Don't get me wrong Gosling is ice-cool, his character's presence and economy of words along with his racing jacket, tooth pick and general lack of fear and emotion give him that old school Steve McQueen idol feel. Plus his smooth yet superlative driving skills, ruthless discipline and part stunt driver - part getaway driver shtick give him the kind of poise and edge that would give a Top Gear viewer a hard-on for months.

When not indulging in shadier assignments Gosling (Driver/hero with no name) works at a garage run by Shannon (Breaking Bad's awesome Brian Cranston), when not fixing cars and arranging film car stunts Shannon is partially hamstrung by his mob connections (check out the brilliant turn of Ron Perlman as the evil Nino). Connections he surprisingly and cheerfully utilises to try and put together a Racing car team with Gosling as the driver. First plot hole here is you get the impression that Gosling's work with Shannon is the legitimate side to his more understated criminal work?

Gosling develops a tender relationship with girl next door Irene (Carey Mulligan) and her young son. Things progress nicely between the pairing, with lots of shared smiles, staring and gentle cooing until her idiot husband Standard (Oscar Isaac) is released from jail and his debts and criminal history threaten the safety of both Irene and their son. Gosling strikes up an uneasy pseudo-friendship with Standard and decides to do a driving job/robbery that will clear Standard of his protection debts and more importantly keep Irene clear from harm. Now this is where the whole thing slides into the realms of improbability as it turns out Shannon's mobster chums Bernie and Nino (who were funding the racing team plan) are linked to the crime Gosling is about to perform.

Without any further spoilers, this bungled crime job unlocks the quite tiresome Soprano's esque 'anyone who does anything that the mob don't like or makes them look like idiots means they have and anyone they know has to die' narrative even if it can be obviously resolved. The resulting cat and mouse game brings about moments of extreme and unexpected violence out of Gosling's character, as he toils to keep Irene safe and himself alive. There is plenty of tension and chaotic adrenalin fuelled scenes but most dialogue and logic is sliced to pieces by the fact there is and never will be any reasoning with the mob and the 'kill or be killed' end section significantly lowers the film's tone. It is fun speculating about Gosling's past though.

Newton Thomas Sigel’s cinematography is often awe inspiring and reminiscent of Michael Mann, with sweeping shots of downtown LA and extremes of light and shade helping create the contrasting moods between the romance and the violence and tension. The 80s style heavy synth soundtrack also manages to strangely work, evoking memories of the squalid 80s noir films where the cars were the star. My main issue was this film seems to fall between the cracks of between being a straight up commercial action thriller and a more independent, intelligent picture. Gosling oozes charisma one minute and is more wooden than Pinocchio the next, Carey Mulligan is excellent but neither she or Cranston really get enough screen time and the frustrating and at times awful second half plot developments undermines all the sterling work done in the first 40 mins.