The Films of Nicolas Winding Refn
With Blood on My Hands: Pusher II
I'm the Angel of Death: Pusher III
Drive (September 29/11)
Based on the novel by James Sallis, Drive follows a nameless stuntman/getaway driver (Ryan Gosling) as he finds himself embroiled in an increasingly deadly scenario involving a beautiful neighbor (Carey Mulligan's Irene), her volatile husband (Oscar Isaac's Standard), and a vicious mobster (Albert Brooks' Bernie). Filmmaker Nicolas Winding Refn opens Drive with an exciting heist sequence that ultimately isn't indicative of what follows, as the director, for the most part, subsequently straddles the line between art-house and mainstream cinema - with the movie's deliberate pace and contemplative atmosphere demanding the viewer's patience on an ongoing basis. And although Gosling delivers an expectedly striking and thoroughly compelling performance, the actor's character, a strong-but-silent type, never becomes as wholeheartedly sympathetic a figure as one might've hoped. It's ultimately the inclusion of several astonishingly electrifying moments - eg a robbery that goes horribly wrong - that confirms Drive's place as a better-than-average thriller, with the film's irresistibly stylish atmosphere compensating for its general lack of context and substance.
Only God Forgives (August 10/13)
An oddball, mostly unwatchable cinematic experiment, Only God Forgives follows Ryan Gosling's Julian as he embarks on a reluctant campaign of revenge after his brother is murdered in Thailand. It's an inherently engrossing premise that's squandered from the word go by director Nicolas Winding Refn, as the filmmaker has infused Only God Forgives with a hopelessly pretentious feel that's reflected in its various attributes - with the leaden pace, aggressively stylish visuals, and infuriatingly spare storyline ranking high on the movie's list of massive missteps. Refn's ongoing efforts at cultivating a dreamlike atmosphere contributes heavily to the stagnant vibe, as the movie vacillates between reality and the characters' imagined exploits seemingly at random - which results in a lurching, start-stop momentum that grows more and more infuriating as time (slowly) progresses. Refn's style-over-substance modus operandi ultimately renders the film's few positive elements moot, with the sporadic inclusion of breathtakingly violent sequences - eg a character is tortured to a remarkably brutal extent - literally the only thing preventing the viewer from checking out completely. (It's worth noting that even Gosling, as dynamic a performer as currently exists, is unable to breathe any life into this miserable piece of work.) And while it's finally difficult not to admire Refn's refusal to offer up even a kernel of conventional storytelling, Only God Forgives is hardly the exciting, engrossing follow-up to Drive one might've naturally anticipated.