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.
The Neon Demon (July 12/16)
Nicolas Winding Refn's downward spiral continues with The Neon Demon, as the movie, which is at least an improvement over the almost unwatchable Only God Forgives, has been suffused with an aggressively arty sensibility that slowly-but-surely renders its positive attributes moot (ie Refn's over-the-top directorial flourishes ultimately drain the life out of the proceedings). The spare narrative follows aspiring model Jesse (Elle Fanning) as her career begins to astronomically take off, with the character's uneasy friendship with a pair of fellow models (Bella Heathcote's Gigi and Abbey Lee's Sarah), as well as a suspiciously helpful makeup artist (Jena Malone's Ruby), paving the way for her eventual downfall. It's interesting to note that The Neon Demon actually fares rather well in its first half, as Refn, working from a script cowritten with Mary Laws and Polly Stenham, augments his expectedly (and predictably) flamboyant visuals with a storyline that holds a fair degree of promise - with the familiarity of the plot, at the outset, offset by strong performances and, of course, a tremendously hypnotic sense of style. There's little doubt, however, that the movie, even in its comparatively stellar opening hour, proves unable to wholeheartedly capture the viewer's attention, as Refn employs a deliberate pace that highlights the thinness of the story and exacerbates the style-over-substance atmosphere (ie the 118 minute running time is nothing short of ludicrous). And although the film, at least, closes with an inexplicable yet impressively startling final stretch, The Neon Demon primarily comes off as a self-indulgent art-house experiment that falls right in line with Refn's previous endeavor.