REO Speedwagon’s hit ‘I Can’t Fight This Feeling’ blasts out of the car radio, a strange Danish man sings at the top of his voice whilst his passenger squirms with delight beside him, eyebrow no doubt arched upwards. That’s how the story goes. As cult director Nicolas Winding Refn [interviewed below] gave Ryan Gosling a lift after a disastrous meeting about Drive, they subsequently bonded over power ballads and the film jump-started to life… and what a film!

It was never in doubt that the maker of Pusher and Bronson would surprise and shock with his next project, but his steady, well-informed eye manages to combine a healthy knowledge of European art house and Hollywood with emphatic results. Assembling a remarkable cast with two hotter-than-the-sun-leads in Gosling and Carey Mulligan, and two of TV’s most sought after in Bryan Cranston and Christina Hendricks (Breaking Bad and Mad Men), was a triumph, but to combine that with a thrilling plot (stunt man moonlights as a get away driver) and a killer script with minimal dialogue/maximum impact deserves a jumping high five.

However, we will stop short at a firm handshake, because while this is an incredible film on many levels, unfortunately these levels don’t always fall in together. First of all, it looks spectacular, almost too good. The hypnotic, contemplative drive sequences seduce as intended, beautiful and sparse (like some of the dialogue) they offer moments of quiet amongst the chaos. Unfortunately these washed out vignettes tripping in and out of the film often drift into aftershave ad territory. When the chaos arrives it’s sharp and brutal and the violence here is just that, very violent. The film’s heart is cold (and warm) in the right places, but undeveloped characters and slow burn scenes means the violence leaves a bad taste in the mouth. Of course intended, but it doesn’t mean we have to like it.

What we are left with is Sofia Coppola re-making Scorsese – not to everybody’s taste, and a picture you’re going to either love or hate… a bit like REO Speedwagon.

By Ian Roebuck

Originally published in issue 32 (vol 3) of Loud And Quiet. October 2011.