Finally kerb crawling or zoom zooming its way onto our small screens is the film that made many critics wet with delight last year and proclaimed it ‘film of the year’ and a sure nod for Oscars and awards aplenty.
But the simple story of one stunt driver turned getaway man for hire who falls for his sexy single mum neighbour deciding to become her knight in shiny auto-chrome is brilliant overall and stunning in places but is hardly worth all the accolades heaped upon it. Originally this was going to be a big budget effort featuring Huge Assman (Hugh Jackman!) in the title role but luckily art house director Nicholas Winding Refn held out for much cheaper (and cooler) Ryan Gosling and the result is a moody, dark electro mash up of film styles and ideas.
Gosling and Refn’s first meeting before the film began did not go well as the couple did not take to each other (Refn had a bad cold and talked little) and it was not until Gosling was driving Refn home in his car sitting in near stewed silence and a REO Speedwagon song came on the radio and Refn came alive and begun to sing along at the top of his voice! Some kind of epihany came over the two roadsters and they knew they could create something special.
Ryan had his dialogue stripped away to virtually nothing and the idea seized upon that night was that the ‘Driver’ only really lived at night behind the wheel of his 1973 Chevy Malibu expressing his emotion through his actions and the songs on the radio. This is a fantastic technique that works extremely well and with Refn using slow dissolves and long takes he evokes the feel and look of films like Michael Mann’s Manhunter the little seen gem White of the Eye and channels the bleakness of Taxi Driver or even neo 80s films like Irreversible.
Gosling is proving to be one of the best actors of his generation and has never given a bad performance in any film albeit how bad the film is or how small his role. Sterling support comes from Carey Mulligan who is not needed to do much her but pout, look a little lost and pretty but the standouts are Albert Brooks (the voice of Nemo’s dad) in full on bad guy mode and he makes one of the year’s most evil and chillingly believable villains. Also excellent is Bryan Cranston (Breaking Bad) as the driver’s friend and mechanic who provides a relatively moral centre to the film that often strays from their path.
It’s well worth picking up to watch at home and on Blu-ray really shows off its night time electro lit scenes and stunning cinematography from Newton Thomas Sigel. But for me it’s the soundtrack from Cliff Martinez which features CSS singer Lovefoxxx that really makes this film worthwhile, its old school electronic beeps and squeaks in places and sultry sexy vocals in others and one of the key themes called A Real Hero sums up the Drivers philosophy in its revealing lyrics that tell you more about him than anything he says.
A cool film yes, but not the instant classic that everyone told you it was.