Opening 26 Jan 2012
Driver (that’s his name, played by Ryan Gosling) is a stunt man in Hollywood. His secret second job is to sit in a fast car outside crime sites, in order to whisk away burglars with their stolen goods, before the police arrive. The film opens with just this scenario. With two robbers in the back seat, Driver threads his way through the night, listens to the police radio giving descriptions of his get-away car, impassively chews on a toothpick, avoids capture, and delivers the gangsters. Shortly into the plot he moves into an apartment next to a darling single mother named Irene (Carey Mulligan) and her son Benicio (Kaden Leos). Slowly he makes himself useful and they grow closer. Unfortunately, Irene is not a single mother at all, and soon her husband Standard (Oscar Isaac) comes home from prison. Driver, a model of consideration, retreats into his former world and leaves the field to Standard, that is until Standard is brutally attacked by gangsters who feel he has a debt to pay. Driver, in an effort to protect potentially endangered Irene and Benicio, agrees to drive Standard in a hold-up geared to repay the debt. Naturally, it’s more of a set-up than a hold-up; all goes wrong and by the end of the film, there are several corpses. Driver weighs options which will draw Irene and Benicio away from danger.
Based on the book of the same name by James Sallis, Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn has made a terrific gangster thriller, which captures your attention from the first to the last minute. Nothing is a given, as the plot slowly unfolds, accompanied by exactly appropriate music or none at all, depending on the scene, something which I can’t say for many films. The soundtrack is by Cliff Martinez. All of the actors are excellent and perfect for their roles. Watch for more from Carey Mulligan. Director Refn said, “The romantic scenes between Mulligan and Gosling create a very delicate and beautiful contrast to the brutality which runs throughout the rest of the film.” But without a doubt the film owes its impact to Ryan Gosling. He was fine in Blue Valentine and The Ides of March, but here he is mysterious and taciturn (very little text). The gloves, the white jacket with the yellow scorpion on the back, the toothpick behind the ear are all small touches which would mean nothing without Gosling inside them. Just watch him clench the muscle in his cheek bone; this is more expressive than hundreds of words would be. The film reminds me of old westerns where the cowboy leans against the wall, silent and observing, inwardly torn, but outwardly unemotional, only to turn and walk into the sunset after setting everything straight. Imagine that in a gangster movie. Refn rightly won the prize for best director at the 2011 Cannes film festival. Filmed on location in Los Angeles. (Becky Tan)