Having seen Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn's previous two features, Bronson and Valhalla Rising, the idea of this very weird stylist tackling a "Hollywood" movie made me wonder: Would he sell out? Or would his blend of artful lighting, postmodernist deconstructions of tough guy antiheroes, and scenes of sudden, horrifically grisly violence survive his transition into mainstream American cinema? The answer is the latter, and woe to any average filmgoer who thinks he or she is about to see a typical studio action picture or a fun Ryan Gosling movie.
A stunt car driver by day and a getaway driver at night, Gosling's nearly mute character has recently moved into a creepy LA apartment building and finds himself growing close to his neighbor (Carrie Mulligan), a young mother whose husband's release from prison propels the story in motion – even though this doesn't even happen until halfway through the film. Refn never seems to care much for traditional story structure (even if this is the first film he hasn't also written himself), so this loose approach is no great surprise. Once the dominoes start falling, however, Drive becomes a mostly standard modern noir, with Gosling falling deeper into danger after a routine holdup goes typically, terribly wrong.
I enjoyed Drive, but I am skeptical about all the acclaim that critics are heaping upon it. I'm not yet sure if Refn is an important filmmaker or if his alternating quiet/bloody/quiet style is merely fashionable. In other words, after seeing his three most recent films, I am not yet convinced that there is any great depth to his work, or if he has anything valuable to say. Obviously, Drive's incredibly hip cast – which also includes Bryan Cranston, Christina Hendricks, and an Albert Brooks cast strongly against type – feels differently. In any event, it's an interesting look at the state of cinema in 2011, with Refn's intentionally off-putting mix of cheesy stylistics (including eurotrash pop songs and a pink '80s font for all the credits), startling gore, loving shots of the Los Angeles cityscape, and a Steve McQueenly performance by Gosling that skirts the edges of goofiness but never quite crosses the line.