I had put this film on my Netflix queue a while ago where it lingered, being bumped down while many other films were scootched up to first place. When it eventually turned up in my mailbox, I had quite forgotten why I wanted to see it. Did I really pick a film--starring Ryan Gosling no less--about a stunt driver in Los Angeles who is also a criminal get-away driver? An action film? Me? Did someone hack into my Netflix account and add this as a joke?
No, there was a reason I wanted to see the film. And that reason was: the film is good. Far more than an action film, it is a resonant, moody, atmospheric dream that features a talented cast: Ryan Gosling as The Driver, with Carey Mulligan, Bryan Cranston, Albert Brooks, Ron Perlman, Oscar Isaac, and Christina Hendricks. But the other uncredited member of the cast turns out to be the city of Los Angeles itself, much like other psychological thrillers that have taken place there...films as far back as Howard Hawks' 1946 masterpiece "The Big Sleep" all the way to David Lynch's "Mulholland Drive" (previously here). The city is a silent player, changing and shaping the other characters, effecting how they behave and think, its topography and architecture as important as any living person.
Based on the 2005 James Sallis novel of the same name, there is more silence and unspoken communication than dialogue in this chilly--and chilling--story. Almost surreal on many levels, it is also an homage to a certain kind of film from the past. There are very deliberate echoes, on the part of the director, from the second Golden Age of film in the 60s-70s with a pace and intent reminiscent of films like "Point Blank," The Driver," and the sort of disenfranchised solitariness of "Zabriskie Point"...and even the legendary "Two-Lane Blacktop" (previously here) in which James Taylor plays an unnamed character identified only as "The Driver," just like Ryan Gosling. There is also a deliberate sense of the 80s as well, with the neon pink font of the title an homage to 1983's "Risky Business" and the abundance of synth-pop in the soundtrack.
The plot is a kind of neo-noir thriller involving layers of crimes and double crossing in which Gosling--who skillfully plays his Driver with an unflappable, eerie stillness--flows between hero, anti-hero, dangerous hero, and hero. And the film opens with possibly the most tense, slowly unfolding cat-and-mouse getaway car chase ever filmed.
Director Refn won the Best Director Award (Prix de la mise en scène) at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival, and the film was nominated for Best Film, Best Director, Best Supporting Actress, and Best Editing at the 2012 British Academy Film Awards (BAFTA).
Recommend? Yes. It walks a line between genres, styles, and intents. It has a little something for everyone.