By Helen Dines
Ryan Gosling plays “Driver” in this retro, genre-bending thriller by director Nicolas Winding Refn. Driver is a Hollywood stunt driver come mechanic by day, who moonlights as a getaway driver for the thrill of it. And what a thrill. He may have an icy-cool, calm exterior but you share Driver’s exhilaration in the mesmerising opening sequence as he attempts to out-wit the police during a getaway from a warehouse robbery. You find yourself willing him on as he twists and turns through the backs streets of LA, desperate for him to get out of there a free – and very smart – man.
His two compartmentalised worlds come crashing together when Driver embarks on a tentative romance with his neighbour, Irene (played by Carey Mulligan). It’s this emotional attachment that gets him into trouble when her jailbird husband (Oscar Isaac) later returns from prison. The film then takes the well trodden road of “one last heist gone wrong” but on a thrill ride with added extras, concentrating on the reactions and emotions of Driver and his car-crash life rather than the traditional heist narrative.
The supporting cast (Ron Perlman and Albert Brooks as gangster partners Nino and Bernie, with Bryan Cranston as a washed up stuntman turned small time crook) are superb and Gosling excels as our taciturn protagonist. He barely has a page of dialogue throughout the whole film but communicates all through glances, expression and seething body language. He is the ultimate anti-hero (in a similar vein to Dirty Harry) and you’re rooting for him to succeed and get the girl despite falling into terrifyingly gleeful bouts of violence and sociopathy.
The accompanying synth sound track enhances the retro 80’s feel as well as intensifying the sense of apprehension. The movie has a purposeful B movie feel which is probably one of the film’s few failings, albeit a minor one. It sometimes feels a bit over stylised and uber-cool for its own good.
Overall though, the finished piece is a gory joyride – a terrifying and exhilarating take on the heist movie. Not quite a classic but pretty close.