Due to its earlier release in the US I read and heard quite a lot about the movie and decided to see it now, since it finally reached europe. This review contains spoilers so be warned if you’re interested in seeing the film.
Pretty much all the reviews I saw mentioned that the movie has quite the 80s tone and feel going and I have to agree. All that made me not expecting too much since I’m not too much of an 80s fan at all. And I guess half the audience that was in the theater did not get the movie they expected. I, on the other hand, got the movie I expected and… really really liked it!
This movie is about a young man, we call him driver (Ryan Gosling), we don’t really learn much about. He’s just there, living his life. This life includes being a stuntman for movies what makes him quite an impressive driver. Beside that he’s working in a friends’ (Bryan Cranston) car repair shop. This friend also has some questionable contacts that will come into play at a certain point in the movie. Now our driver tries to live his life between doing a few driver jobs for quick robs, work in the repair shop and being a stuntman. The driver character is a little hard to explain and leaves room for interpretation I think. We soon learn he definitely has a dark side. We, in fact, learn that right at the beginning. Right there we also see that he’s an exceptional driver with quite the instinct for certain situations. We never learn where he got that from. Which, at least for me, doesn’t hurt the character at all. It adds a mysterious feel to the character.
Our driver lives in an appartment building, next to a woman (Carey Mulligan) and her kid. Our driver meets them when shopping and recognizes her car broke down. For a moment we can see the thought process in his head. “Do I help them or do I mind my own business?!”. He decides to help them. There we see that he also has a not so dark side. He’s helping her out and both kind of develop a connection. We can see that there is more happening and that’s because the movie gives enough space for the characters to play their parts. There isn’t too much dialogue happening but lots of things happen in the faces of the actors. Long cuts with a lot of room. No unnecessary explanations like so many movies do nowadays, because studios seem to think the audience is dumb and needs an explanation for everything. If you’re not mentally and emotional retarded then you’re able to understand what’s happing between these two people. And there we have our interpretation point again. Our driver is a pretty introverted character. He’s careful with whom he opens up to. His life depends on it. He even may have never loved someone before. The woman and the driver deepen their connection, in a very innocent and lovely way, further and now even the dumbest person on the planet can see that they really like each other. Even the kid seems to really like the driver. We also learn that the woman is actually married and her husband, in jail, is soon getting out and coming back. Which leaves driver in a not so easy to manage position. I found it very interesting to see how he gets through that.
The husband and the driver soon are confronted with each other. One day our driver comes home and sees the husband lying bloody on the floor. Driver helps him and asks what was going on. We learn that there happened some risky protection business in jail. The husband now has to pay off the dept he owes to the people that protected him in jail. Driver decides to help him and both go to a person that has the right job for them. The bad thing is that the job is not going as expected.
At the same time driver and his car repair shop friend land a deal with some mafia/organized crime guy to finance a stock car race endeavour. And that’s when it all comes together.
The money our driver and the husband are stealing is connected to the crime people who finance the race plans. It’s also bad that the husband of the woman gets shot and dies… which leads the bad guys to the woman and her kid… and of course to the driver who lives next door. All this was a long planned setup to upset the east coast mafia from whom the stolen money was.
To find out who set them up and how to resolve that complicated situation our driver really goes down the violent path. Somehow he knows exactly how to handle the people he’s dealing with. We still don’t know exactly why and it doesn’t matter. He wants to protect the woman and her kid… no matter the costs. The second half of the movie then is of course the one that gives us quite some bloody and disturbing scenes. Well placed and timed!
I realize that my description of the story doesn’t make much sense but believe me… the movie gets it all together soooo damn well. It’s impressive.
This movie is a slow burn. The first half we have some wonderful character development. The movie takes its time with that. The cinematography, lighting, colours… the whole mood is almost mezmerizing. There are a lot of scenes where driver is just driving. We see his face and all the streetlights, all the different colours of that universe that Los Angeles can be, reflecting in his face. These scenes could easily be boring but somehow they give the viewer some room to understand what previously happened in the film. Like short intermissions. In the second half the movie starts to speed up a little. Our characters are confronted with certain situations and problems. These need to be solved as soon as possible.
The driver character sometimes has a psycho feel to him. But the way I see it he’s able to control that notion. He’s introverted and likes to stay by himself. This woman and her kid change his world. She could be his first true love and he’s willing to do everything necessary to know that she’s fine. He doesn’t expect anything in return. Kind of a classic movie hero.
The woman is a little torn apart. On the one side her husband and the other that guy who is just there and creates a lovely atmosphere everytime he’s around. I think she loves both of them and feels sorry. Carey Mulligan really does a beautiful job with that character. Again lots of quiet scenes that just speak for themself.
Bryan Cranston is also a great addition to the film. It’s cool to see him getting big A list roles now. It almost seems he’s getting bombarded with offers nowadays. Well… his ‘Breaking Bad’ performance surely helps him. In this film he is kind of the tragic figure that wasted its second chance.
The bad guys played by Albert Brooks (phenomenal) and Ron Perlman do a nice job too. It’s interesting to see Ron Perlman play such a small role. But he fills it and gives it some depth. Albert Brooks certainly isn’t playing his usual role here. It’s even hard to call him a bad guy character here. In the end he’s torn apart by the decisions he has to make. He just does what has to be done to resolve a situation.
This is not a ‘Fast and Furious’ or ‘Transporter’ movie. This isn’t a movie made for ‘entertainment’. It’s a movie that requieres some investment and patience. If you’re willing to do that then you might see a movie that mentally lasts a little longer than just that one evening you saw it. This movie, for me, certainly did. I wrote this review over 5 days and I’m still fascinated by the film.
Is it a movie I could watch over and over again? I think no. Like I said. It’s not an entertainment film. You need to be in the mood for it. Or you need someone who you really want to show the film to. Make a nice evening and later talk about the film. And I’m sure it will be interesting to hear the perspective on the movie from another person.