If you haven’t heard of Ryan Gosling by now, then you must have been in the back of beyond; if you haven’t heard of him after Drive then you must be on a different planet. He puts in a career-defining performance in Nicolas Winding Refn’s latest thriller as stunt driver forced to commit grisly killings in order to protect Irene (Carey Muligan), the woman he loves and her little boy. The tension is tight and rarely lets up even until the final shot cuts to black.
With little happening on screen throughout the film, the camera pulls you into the film like the opening minutes of Sergio Leone’s Once Upon A Time In The West. Opening with a taut heist, he sits and waits for the robbers to return to the getaway vehicle he’s driving, before he drives away in a slick, intelligent escape. And then when it’s time to release the brakes, control is maintained throughout with one of the greatest car chases in a long while, and certainly the cleverest.
The electro-pop soundtrack adds another texture to the film making sure it doesn’t skip a beat. And even if wasn’t there, Mulligan and Gosling are great when they’re on screen together, complementing each other’s moves. But as the central protagonist, Gosiling is the one that shines. Despite having few lines, every time he’s on the screen he makes the film light up. It’s as if Gosling knows he doesn’t even have to try hard, he is effortlessly cool. Despite the cold exterior he exudes there’s a lot of empathy for him, even after the horribly acts – and the violence is considerably graphic – that the audience will root for him every step of the way. From the start we can read him like a book, but it never once gets boring finding out more about him – and Refn allows every part of his character to be explored.
Refn has done another terrific job of allowing the actors to flex their muscles. As with Bronson, his biopic of Britain’s most notorious criminal, he is not afraid to let the actors pull the audience in, and at the same time push them further with his twisting plots. And every shot of LA looks as beautiful as it did in Heat.
One big disappointment is that we don’t get to see enough of Mulligan, who is far better than her colleagues in their supporting roles. A terrifically tight film, this is the film that will launch Ryan Gosling into the stratosphere.