“Get in. Get out. Get away.”
Director: Nicholas Winding-Refn
Cast: Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan, Bryan Cranston
Synopsis: A mysterious Hollywood stuntman and mechanic moonlights as a getaway driver and finds himself trouble when he helps out his neighbour.
For his first Hollywood movie, art-house director Nicholas Winding-Refn adapts a James Sallis pulp novel into a genre movie that stamps its own distinctive feel on a style borrowed from the ultra-cool movies of the 60s and 70s (Bullitt, The Driver, etc), and themes that are shared with Westerns as diverse as Shane (1953) and the Clint Eastwood/Sergio Leone Man With No Name Spaghetti Westerns. To this template it adds a level of graphic violence that many will find unpalatable.
Ryan Gosling (Gangster Squad) plays the Driver, a motor mechanic who also works as a Hollywood stunt driver and a rent-a-wheelman for thieves who lack the driving skills required for a speedy getaway. The Driver has an implacable cool behind the wheel which is ably illustrated in an opening getaway sequence which Winding-Refn and Mat Newman edit with the same precision and economy which the Driver displays behind the wheel.
The Driver begins a chaste relationship with Irene (Carey Mulligan – Shame, Far from the Madding Crowd), the mother next door of a young boy (Kaden Leos) whose father (Oscar Isaac – 10 Years, Ex-Machina) is coming to the end of a prison sentence. His feelings for them both compel him to step in to help once the husband is blackmailed into committing a heist upon his release from prison. His motivations are noble – he’s literally a knight in shining armour in the form of a silver jacket with a scorpion on its back. Gosling has little dialogue to deliver, and conversations are punctuated by lengthy pauses and meaningful stares that could become tedious if they didn’t contribute to the film’s stately pace. It’s almost a shock when the well-meaning Shannon (Bryan Cranston – Saving Private Ryan, Total Recall), or mobster Nino (Ron Perlman – 13 Sins, Kid Cannabis) begin talking in scatter-gun fashion – an indication of the disruption they will bring to the Driver’s carefully constructed life. This limited use of dialogue calls upon Gosling to deliver a subtly understated performance which he seems to manage with ease.
Violence only plays a part once the heist goes wrong – as it inevitably must – and the Driver is forced to go to increasingly violent lengths to protect both himself and his neighbour, Irene, and his own self-image as a knight in shining armour. It’s as necessary as it is unpleasant, but it inevitably polarises opinion. Whichever way you feel about it, the quality of craftsmanship from all concerned can’t be denied.
(Reviewed 13th February 2012)