This is an odd movie. I went assuming it was a smarter, cooler Fast and the Furious, and there are a couple of good driving scenes. But it is primarily an exercise in backward-looking noir, trying to re-create the look of 1970s driving movies, perhaps with a bit of Point Blank thrown in. The driver is Ryan Gosling, who is never given a name, and is practically affectless, with barely a change of expression except for a slight smile when he is around Irene (Carey Mulligan).
The opening scene is close to a masterpiece, as Gosling drives a getaway car throughÂ theÂ streets of Los Angeles, alternating bursts of high speed driving with a careful cat-and-mouse game played with the police. But very rapidly the film enters noir territory as the driver falls for Mulligan and gets involved in a heist that goes wrong, drawing in the local mob. The movie also gets very bloody, as we see the effects of a shotgun blast to the head and Gosling kicks a man’s face to a bloody pulp. There is an ethereal quality to the movie that didn’t work for me; the director, Nicolas Winding Refn (Bronson, Pusher) seemed to have some pretensions to making a different kind of movie that never quite emerged. But itÂ worthÂ seeing above all for a simply wonderful performance from Albert Brooks as the brains of the local mob. He manages to be scarily menacing and charming at the same time, and his eruptions of violence appear out of nowhere. He really is the revelation in this role.