Ryan Gosling plays a stuntman and getaway driver who falls for his neighbour Irene (played by Brit Actress Carey Mulligan), whose husband is in prison. On his release, the husband has a hangover of trouble and debt, which Goslings character (who is only ever known as “The Driver”) attempts to help him out of, by being a getaway driver at a raid on a pawn shop. The trouble kicks off from there and the Driver is the only one savvy enough and alive enough to do anything about it. And for the sake of his neighbour and her son, he does!
Heavily influenced by 80’s culture, from the off this film feels like you’re in a middle-aged mans fantasy. The main character is a stuntman who specialises in flipping cars! And classic cars too! Inevitably there are fast car chases (just like the Hoff in Knight Rider). Opening credits are cocktail pink with sexy synth pop 80’s music beating away! The Driver is as inscrutable and expressionless as Steven Seagal. He’s able to summon up massive strength from nowhere, endure being shot and stabbed and yet remain emotionally uncommitted and aloof. He protects the girl and aspires to ride into the sunset, content in the knowledge that he killed various people in the name of freedom and the American dream. So, that done, we can all leave the cinema feeling that the evil-doers are vanquished and the world is now a bit safer thanks to guys with guns like him.
All sounds like a great action film. But for some reason this film doesn’t want to be that. It wants realism, it wants us to emotionally invest and it tries to have poignant moments. The awkward result is reminiscent of the interstitials computer games have between levels that crowbar a story line into what is otherwise just another plain old driving game, in the feeble attempt to make it different from, you’ve guessed it… all the other plain old driving games! Indeed the film is reminiscent of an old 1999 Playstation game, funnily enough called “Driver”. A cross between that and a Tarantino film.
And like a Tarantino film the soundtrack is un-original. Most notably is a heavy use of Brian Eno’s – An Ending. Whilst a beautiful piece of music, it was a mistake using such a popular and well know piece in the film. And distracting! And so many times! What were they thinking? I’m all for using themes for moments but this one already came with baggage for me and so appeared completely disjointed!
However, director Nicolas Winding Refn has openly admitted to many influences, especially films including The Transporter, Taxi Driver and Halloween – the last being more than evident when the Driver adopts a mask for one kill. The shots of him stood still and menacing in front of his prey were very Michael Myers and , I admit, were rather cool!
Gosling and Mulligan also give good enough performances, but the film as a whole is suffering from an identity crisis. Or maybe its makers are suffering a midlife one.