Film Review: Bad Lieutenant (1992)

Release Date: May 14th, 1992 (Cannes)
Directed by: Abel Ferrara
Written by: Zoe Lund, Paul Calderon, Abel Ferrara
Music by: Joe Delia
Cast: Harvey Keitel, Victor Argo, Paul Calderón, Leonard Thomas, Robin Burrows, Frankie Thorn, Victoria Bastel, Paul Hipp, Vincent Laresca

Bad Lt. Productions, Aries Films, LIVE Entertainment, 96 Minutes, 91 Minutes (R-rated)

Review:

“Vampires are lucky, they can feed on others. We gotta eat away at ourselves. We gotta eat our legs to get the energy to walk. We gotta come, so we can go. We gotta suck ourselves off. We gotta eat away at ourselves til there’s nothing left but appetite. We give, and give and give crazy. Cause a gift that makes sense ain’t worth it. Jesus said seventy times seven. No one will ever understand why, why you did it. They’ll just forget about you tomorrow, but you gotta do it.” – Zoe

I’ve heard pretty good things about this movie for years but I had never seen it. Sadly, I was really disappointed with it.

It’s a movie about a shitty, completely unlikable character. While that doesn’t mean that a story has to be bad, the problem is that he’s mostly surrounded by other shitty people and the few good ones are in such miserable situations that there really is no silver lining in this film.

Sure, it reflects the really dark parts about life but it doesn’t leave you with much to care about or anything to hope for. There’s nothing that grabs on to you and you’re just taken on a journey with a total piece of shit in the final days of his pathetic life.

I get it, you’re not supposed to like the guy but just making a movie about an unlikable character isn’t a good story. While he does appear to want to do something positive in regards to the nun who was raped, who isn’t seeking justice, I’m left feeling like he’s not really wanting to do it for her or for justice even. He just wants to take his anger and problems out on scumbags that deserve no mercy for their crime.

Apart from the shitty story and shitty characters, the movie is at least fairly well acted and competently shot.

It looks good, as it captures the grittiness of New York.

However, solid cinematography work can’t save a movie that’s just a turd to begin with.

When comparing this to other crime films of the era, movies like Goodfellas and Donnie Brasco are also full of mostly shitty people. However, those movies found a way to make you care about those crappy humans. They had charisma, charm and there was a suave coolness about them.

In Bad Lieutenant, Harvey Keitel is so unlikable and off-putting that it just broke the movie for me. I usually love Keitel but I sat through this whole movie hoping he’d get killed by the end. So I guess when that moment came, I wasn’t disappointed.

Rating: 4/10
Pairs well with: other Abel Ferrara films.

Film Review: X-Men: The Last Stand (2006)

Also known as: X-Men 3, X-Men 3: The Last Stand (working titles), X3, X III: The Last Stand (alternative titles)
Release Date: May 22nd, 2006 (Cannes)
Directed by: Brett Ratner
Written by: Simon Kinberg, Zak Penn
Based on: X-Men by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby
Music by: John Powell
Cast: Hugh Jackman, Halle Berry, Ian McKellen, Famke Janssen, Anna Paquin, Kelsey Grammer, James Marsden, Rebecca Romijn, Shawn Ashmore, Aaron Stanford, Vinnie Jones, Patrick Stewart, Ben Foster, Ellen Page, Dania Ramirez, Shohreh Aghdashloo, Bill Duke, Daniel Cudmore, Eric Dane, R. Lee Ermey

The Donners’ Company, Marvel Enterprises, Twentieth Century Fox, 104 Minutes

Review:

“Charles Xavier did more for mutants than you will ever know. My single greatest regret is that he had to die for our dream to live.” – Magneto

From memory, this was the worst X-Men film of the lot. Well, after about a dozen movies with spinoffs and whatnot, this one still takes the cake in that regard.

This really killed the film franchise, at least for its time. It wouldn’t bounce back until First Class rolled around and gave the series a bit of a soft reboot.

Here, we see the original trilogy of films come to an end and unfortunately, that end is a very unsatisfactory one. Granted, none of these films have aged particularly well and they actually feel quite dated now.

That’s not to say that some of the performances aren’t great or iconic, a few of them are. Specifically, Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen. This is probably also why they tried to find ways to include these guys in the X-Men films that followed during the reboot era.

The plot for this is pretty fucking atrocious and the film spends more time killing off beloved characters than trying to tell a good story. It’s like it went for shock and cheap emotional grabs but it failed in generating any real emotion because it all felt soulless and cheap.

I think the biggest issue with the film was that Bryan Singer left to make that big bust, Superman Returns. While Brett Ratner probably wasn’t a bad choice, the final product makes me feel like he was sort of just inserted into a movie that was already well into production and found himself in over his head.

The film is also pretty short when compared to the two chapter before it. It makes me wonder if a lot was left out of the final movie. It certainly feels like it’s lacking story, context and depth.

In the end, this is okay if you want to spend a little more time with these characters and if you turn your brain off, it has some neat moments, but overall, it’s a sloppy misfire.

Rating: 5.5/10
Pairs well with: the other films in the original X-Men trilogy.

Film Review: Once Upon A Time In Hollywood (2019)

Also known as: Untitled #9, #9 (working titles)
Release Date: May 21st, 2019 (Cannes)
Directed by: Quentin Tarantino
Written by: Quentin Tarantino
Music by: various
Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt, Margot Robbie, Emile Hirsch, Margaret Qualley, Timothy Olyphant, Austin Butler, Dakota Fanning, Bruce Dern, Al Pacino, Julia Butters, Mike Moh, Luke Perry, Damian Lewis, Samantha Robinson, Rafal Zawierucha, Damon Herriman, Lena Dunham, Maya Hawke, Harley Quinn Smith, Danielle Harris, Scoot McNairy, Clifton Collins Jr., Dreama Walker, Clu Gulager, Martin Kove, Rebecca Gayheart, Kurt Russell, Zoe Bell, Michael Madsen, James Remar, Toni Basil, Quentin Tarantino (voice), Vincent Laresca, Lew Temple, James Marsden (extended release), Walton Goggins (voice, extended release)

Visiona Romantica, Heyday Films, Bona Fide Group, Columbia Pictures, Sony Pictures, 161 Minutes

Review:

“When you come to the end of the line, with a buddy who is more than a brother and a little less than a wife, getting blind drunk together is really the only way to say farewell.” – Narrator

It’s probably no secret that I really loved Quentin Tarantino’s earlier films.

However, his more recent stuff hasn’t quite hit the mark for me in the same way. I think a lot of that has to do with his reliance on his dialogue and his films coming across as a handful (or less) of long conversations with a bit of cool shit sprinkled in and an overabundance of ultraviolence that isn’t as effective as it once was and often times feels out of place and jarring.

That being said, I really fucking dug Once Upon a Time In Hollywood.

It’s not a picture without its flaws but it’s well constructed, well written and perfectly paced, which isn’t something I can say for the rest of Tarantino’s more modern pictures.

I haven’t liked a Tarantino movie this much since the Kill Bill films.

I’m not sure what changed in the way that he paces and constructs his movies but this plays much more like Pulp Fiction or Jackie Brown and that’s a very, very good thing.

A lot of credit has to go to the massive cast, all of whom felt perfect in their roles. It was really cool to see Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt play best buds and sort of go on this adventure together. Their characters were an homage to Burt Reynolds and his stuntman, Hal Needham, who were really close and had a tight bond for years.

DiCaprio’s character was also based off of all the television western actors who were once big stars but never seemed to be able to move on to bigger projects and sort of got typecast and brushed aside.

The third main character in the film is Margot Robbie, who plays a fictionalized version of Sharon Tate, the most famous victim in the Charles Manson murders.

However, like Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds, this film doesn’t follow history’s path and it carves out its own unique story. But I’ve always really loved alternative history takes in fiction. Hell, The Man In the High Castle by Philip K. Dick is one of my all-time favorite novels. I still haven’t watched the television show, though.

Anyway, the film does run long but it’s not as exhausting as The Hateful Eight. We’re not trapped in one room for three hours, here. Instead, we get to explore old-timey Hollywood in an era where it was leaving its glamorous age behind and moving into the darker, grittier, post-Code era.

There are some scenes, while pretty cool, that probably didn’t need to be in the film and don’t serve much purpose other than amusing the director.

One such scene is the fight between Bruce Lee and Brad Pitt’s Cliff Booth. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed it but it didn’t serve the story other than to show how cool and tough Booth was but by this point in the movie, we already knew that. It was also a way for Tarantino to wedge in a few more cameos, in this case: Zoe Bell and Kurt Russell, two of his faves.

The sequence that really cemented this film as being pretty solid was the one that took place at the ranch. Here, Brad Pitt’s Booth discovers that an old friend’s ranch has become infested with cultish hippies, who the audience comes to learn are associated with Charles Manson. It’s an absolutely chilling sequence that builds up suspense in a way that I haven’t seen Tarantino do since the opening scene of Inglourious Basterds, a decade prior.

The climax of the film is also well constructed and pretty fucking intense. This is the part of the film where history is altered and we get to see some epic Tarantino-styled justice befall the force of evil that has been brooding over the story for over two hours.

I probably should have seen this in the theater and I believe that it’s the only Tarantino picture that I haven’t seen on the big screen. However, his two previous films exhausted me and I assumed that this would do the same. But I’m glad to say that this seems like a return to form and I hope this momentum carries over into his future projects.

Rating: 8.75/10
Pairs well with: other more modern Tarantino films.

Film Review: Maniac (1980)

Release Date: May 10th, 1980 (Cannes)
Directed by: William Lustig
Written by: C. A. Rosenberg, Joe Spinell
Music by: Jay Chattaway
Cast: Joe Spinell, Caroline Munro, Tom Savini, William Lustig

Magnum Motion Pictures Inc., 87 Minutes

Review:

“I told you not to go out tonight, didn’t I? Every time you go out, this kind of thing happens.” – Frank Zito

William Lustig made some really interesting horror films in his heyday. While I knew about Maniac Cop first, I spent a lot of my time in mom and pop video stores in the ’80s and discovered this at a pretty young age. It was one of those horror movies that left a lasting impact on me because I was much more scared of the real and plausible than I was of supernatural monsters or ghosts.

I definitely saw this film at a much younger age than I should have but us ’80s kids didn’t have great supervision and a lot of video stores would rent anything to anyone because society wasn’t overly pussified back then.

Anyway, this always had a special place in my mental nostalgia locker due to its impact on me, the fact that it has the mesmerizing Caroline Munro in it and because Joe Spinell was one of the coolest actors of his era. That could also be because I knew Spinell from the Rocky films and because he just has a very unique and memorable appearance. He, along with Dick Miller, were the two character actors that I started to notice in all the cool movies.

The one thing that is really cool about this picture is that it is American but it really has an Italian giallo style to it. Granted, it’s not as vivid, visually, and relies more on the gritty realism of New York City, at the time, but it still feels like it belongs in that very specific, short-lived genre.

I’ve talked before about how giallo kind of gave birth to the American slasher movie. This might actually be the best example of that. And while this isn’t specifically a slasher flick, as the killer uses guns and other tools, it really sort of bridges the gap between the two genres or styles.

Honestly, it just feels like it is both parts, a product of it’s influences and something that was a wee bit ahead of the cinematic horror trends. I don’t think any of that was something that Lustig thought about or planned for but it’s the way I see it and it really cements this film as one that is eternally relevant due to its significance to the larger picture.

Plus, this also has an awesome cameo by special effects maestro Tom Savini. The scene where he blows up his own head is one of the absolute best head splatter shots in motion picture history.

Also, this has an ending that is absolutely bonkers and kind of surprising.

Maniac isn’t a great film by any stretch of the imagination but it is a culturally significant one for those who love these sort of flicks.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: other William Lustig films, as well as late ’70s/early ’80s slasher flicks and Italian giallo.

Film Review: The Dead Don’t Die (2019)

Release Date: May 14th, 2019 (Cannes)
Directed by: Jim Jarmusch
Written by: Jim Jarmusch
Music by: SQÜRL
Cast: Bill Murray, Adam Driver, Tilda Swinton, Chloe Sevigny, Steve Buscemi, Danny Glover, Caleb Landry Jones, Rosie Perez, Iggy Pop, Sara Driver, RZA, Carol Kane, Selena Gomez, Tom Waits

Animal Kingdom, Film i Väst, Kill the Head, Focus Features, 104 Minutes

Review:

“That girl is half Mexican. I know because I love Mexicans.” – Officer Ronnie Peterson

Jim Jarmusch is really hit or miss for me.

Overall, I’d say this was a miss but it did keep my interest because one thing I usually like about Jarmsuch’s films are the characters and their conversations. However, while that is good and engaging the first time around, it doesn’t necessarily make a film worth revisiting.

The Dead Don’t Die is pretty much what one would expect from a Jarmusch film about zombies.

It’s weird, it’s quirky and there’s not much else there. In fact, the only real glue that holds this flimsy house of cards together is the cast and their interactions.

While Jarmusch can be labeled as weird, this film seems to embrace its weirdness a little too much. In this film, shit is weird just to be weird.

For instance, you have Tilda Swinton’s character who is a female Scottish samurai that you later find out is an alien when a UFO randomly appears to take her home in the middle of a zombie fight. Why? What’s the point? Why was she there? Jarmusch doesn’t care, so why should we?

You also have a moment at the end where the characters break the fourth wall for no reason other than creating a nonsensical plot twist in an effort to maximize on the weird. It actually broke the film for me and made it irreparable where, up to that point, I kind of accepted it in spite of its goofy faults.

Additionally, characters are introduced, relationships are established and not a whole lot comes out of any of it. There isn’t a satisfactory payoff and you’re just left scratching your head for a lot of it. I mean, you want to like characters and you kind of do but none of it matters because we’re all fucked and no one really has a plan, including the cops.

Is this supposed to be a critique on authority or society? I mean, haven’t we gotten that with just about every zombie movie ever made? From Jarmusch, a guy that has made some solid, critically acclaimed films, I guess I expected more than this. For the zombie subgenre of horror, I definitely wanted more than this, as zombies have been done to death, pun intended, and just being weird shouldn’t fly and shouldn’t get you a free pass.

I also feel like this awkward style of comedy dialogue is well past its expiration date.

Rating: 5/10
Pairs well with: other Jim Jarmusch films, as well as other zombie comedies.

Film Review: Willow (1988)

Release Date: May, 1988 (Cannes)
Directed by: Ron Howard
Written by: Bob Dolman, George Lucas
Music by: James Horner
Cast: Val Kilmer, Joanne Whalley, Warwick Davis, Billy Barty, Jean Marsh, Patricia Hayes, Pat Roach, Gavan O’Herlihy, Phil Fondacaro, Tony Cox, Kenny Baker (uncredited)

Imagine Entertainment, Lucasfilm Ltd., Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 126 Minutes

Review:

“Magic is the bloodstream of the universe. Forget all you know, or think you know. All that you require is your intuition.” – High Aldwin

I wish that Willow was more beloved than it is. It definitely has its fans but for whatever reason, it never quite reached the levels of popularity that Lucasfilms’ other big properties reached: Star Wars and Indiana Jones.

To be fair, I’d say that this isn’t as good as those other two properties but it is still in the ballpark and not far off.

Willow is an imaginative and fun adventure that was one in a string of special effects milestones in the early days of Lucasfilms’ digital effects mastery. This film had a major breakthrough in its use of visual morphing technology.

But apart from the special effects wizardry in the film, it also came to life with its spectacular sets, wardrobe and art direction.

What makes this click on a level much higher than just being a standard blockbuster is the ensemble cast. Everyone in this film is good and fun to watch, as they all felt like they were giving the movie their all, they had good chemistry and they were believable in their roles. I especially like the chemistry between Warwick Davis and Val Kilmer, as well as Val Kilmer and Joanne Whalley, who became my third or fourth childhood crush because of this film. Apparently, she became Kilmer’s crush too, as they met on this film’s set and married shortly thereafter. And they stayed together for almost a decade, which is in eternity in Hollywood time.

The casting of Jean Marsh as the film’s main villain, an evil sorceress named Bavmorda, was a stroke of genius. One, because she is a damn good actress but can really be terrifying. Two, because her appearance in a similar role from Return to Oz was still fresh in my childhood mind when this came out. And I’m sure it was fresh in a lot of kid’s minds, who were scarred for life by the witch with the interchangeable heads.

I’ve really got to tip my hat to Warwick Davis, though. I don’t think that most people realize that he was just seventeen when this movie was filmed. He carries himself like a true veteran and even though he’s not the top billed star, he is the main character of the film, which is also why the movie’s name is his character’s name. Willow is his journey.

I wish that this had led to more leading roles for Davis but I think that was also the intent had this film done as well as the other Lucasfilm tentpole movies. It underperformed, even though it did make a profit, and that’s probably why this didn’t get the trilogy treatment. Granted, there are still talks of bringing the world of Willow back to the screen and there was also a sequel novel trilogy written by Chris Claremont with the plot outlines done by George Lucas.

Willow is one of the best fantasy epics of its time. I think that revisiting it is long overdue and I assume that it’s going to happen, especially with Disney now owning Lucasfilms and needing content for their Disney+ streaming service. And with that being said, I think a sequel television series would actually work better for this property than a theatrical movie.

Rating: 9.25/10
Pairs well with: other Lucasfilm movies from the ’70s and ’80s, as well as The Lord of the Rings trilogy.

Film Review: River of Death (1989)

Also known as: Alistair MacLean’s River of Death (Germany)
Release Date: May 15th, 1989 (Cannes)
Directed by: Steve Carver
Written by: Andrew Deutsch, Edward Simpson
Based on: River of Death by Alistair MacLean
Music by: Sasha Matson
Cast: Michael Dudikoff, Robert Vaughn, Donald Pleasence, Herbert Lom, L. Q. Jones

Breton Film Productions, Cannon International, Pathe Communications, 107 Minutes

Review:

I’m a pretty avid fan of the movies that Michael Dudikoff made for Cannon Films. So I figured that this would be a hidden gem because of that. Plus, it had an interesting premise that saw Dudikoff go to the Amazon to hunt for treasure and Nazis. Honestly, it sounded like a Cannon Films version of an Indiana Jones movie.

I should have been weary though, as Cannon already attempted such a thing with those two Allan Quatermain pictures from the mid-’80s. Neither of them were terrible but they weren’t awesome either.

Maybe Dudikoff is just at his best when Steve James is by his side and he’s either fighting ninjas or guys in weird costumes that hide in the bayou? Whatever the case, this movie is a total fucking dud.

What’s even more sad about the whole thing is that this also featured Robert Vaughn and Donald Pleasence. Two great character actors with solid chops and really long resumes.

Honestly, though, this movie is pretty damn boring for a film that’s premise promised some pretty cool things. While it has action, none of it is very memorable and we’ve seen much better efforts by Cannon Films four dozen times over by the time this rolled around in ’89.

It’s poorly acted, the script is bird cage liner and the direction and fight choreography don’t measure up to the reasonable low standards of Cannon.

For a Cannon Films or Dudikoff completist, I guess this is worth checking out. Just don’t expect to find your new favorite film of the lot.

Rating: 3.5/10
Pairs well with: other Michael Dudikoff action films, as well as other action movies from Cannon.

Film Review: Möbius (2017)

Release Date: May, 2017 (Cannes)
Directed by: Sam Kuhn
Written by: Sam Kuhn
Cast: Caley Jones, Elissa Mielke, Cotey Pope

Borscht, Lion Attack, 16 Minutes

Review:

It’s been awhile since I’ve watched any of the short film selections on the Criterion Channel, albeit on its own service or its former service, FilmStruck.

I thought that this one had a cool premise and visually, it looked neat, so I checked it out.

Overall, this was a really stylish looking picture that was certainly visually effective and sort of mesmerizing. It felt otherworldly while looking pristine and beautiful.

The plot is pretty simple. It follows a poet as she reflects over her high school lover who has gone missing. All the while, she’s evading the authorities. But mostly she’s questioning what her relationship with the missing boy actually was.

At only sixteen minutes, not a lot happens and most of the time is spent on the visual flourish.

Again, everything looks great but I didn’t feel that there was a whole lot here to chew on.

Whenever the main character, played by Caley Jones, was onscreen, she was able to convey a lot with very little. She wears her emotion on her face, even if most of her looks are sort of deadpan. But some of that is due to the sounds around her and the use of lighting and tone.

This was a fairly interesting experiment and I certainly wasn’t bored during its sixteen minutes. But ultimately, I’m not sure what this was trying to convey other than just giving us cool visuals.

Frankly, it felt like a really long music video without the music.

Rating: 5.5/10
Pairs well with: other short films reviewed here on Talking Pulp.

Film Review: L.A. Confidential (1997)

Release Date: May 14th, 1997 (Cannes)
Directed by: Curtis Hanson
Written by: Brian Helgeland, Curtis Hanson
Based on: L.A. Confidential by James Ellroy
Music by: Jerry Goldsmith
Cast: Kevin Spacey, Russell Crowe, Guy Pearce, James Cromwell, David Strathairn, Kim Basinger, Danny DeVito, Ron Rifkin, Graham Beckel, Matt McCoy, Simon Baker

Regency Enterprises, The Wolper Organization, Warner Bros., 138 Minutes

Review:

“Go back to Jersey, sonny. This is the City of the Angels, and you haven’t got any wings.” – Capt. Dudley Smith

I’ve seen parts of L.A. Confidential over the years and I knew enough about the story before even watching it but yes, this is my first viewing of the film in its entirety.

While that may seem odd for a fan of film-noir, I didn’t become a true lover of noir fiction until I got past my teen years. Sure, I always liked crime movies but the noir aesthetic didn’t truly penetrate my psyche until my late 20s and really didn’t make me do a deep dive into the cinematic style until my mid-30s.

Now L.A. Confidential is a modern neo-noir that takes its narrative and stylistic cues from classic film-noir but it has this pristine razzle dazzle about it and that’s not simply because of the star power. It’s visual allure is just breathtaking and while other films in the ’90s tried to encapsulate the noir look, albeit in color, there is just something fantastical about how this comes off on screen.

On one hand, the movie feels like a dark fairytale of a time long gone and a world that doesn’t exist in the same way. On the other hand, there is a gritty realness to it that makes the darker parts of humanity come across as genuine and frightening.

That being said, this is still great because of its star power on top of the film’s visual look. You really have a solid cast between Guy Pearce, Russell Crowe, Kevin Spacey, James Cromwell, Kim Basinger and Danny DeVito. Everyone does a perfect job with the script and the story.

However, I think the glue that holds everything together so well is director Curtis Hanson. While not having a prolific name like Scorsese, Coppola or De Palma, he takes the crime fiction material and makes it work, incredibly well. He got the most out of his cast while having a great eye for mise-en-scène. The film boasts stupendous cinematography and shot framing.

The score by Jerry Goldsmith is also pretty close to perfect.

My only real complaint about the film comes in regards to its pacing. While mostly energetic, there are a few points in the film that drag a bit more than they need to. I didn’t find it to wreck the movie or even be much of a distraction, though.

The ’90s produced a lot of neo-noir motion pictures but L.A. Confidential certainly deserves its place in the upper echelon.

Rating: 8.75/10
Pairs well with: other ’90s neo-noir films: Heat, The Two Jakes, The Usual Suspects, Mulholland Falls, Seven, Red Rock West, Devil In a Blue Dress, Dick Tracy, etc.

Film Review: Drive (2011)

Release Date: May 20th, 2011 (Cannes)
Directed by: Nicolas Winding Refn
Written by: Hossein Amini
Based on: Drive by James Sallis
Music by: Cliff Martinez
Cast: Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan, Bryan Cranston, Christina Hendricks, Ron Perlman, Oscar Issac, Albert Brooks

FilmDistrict, Bold Films, MWM Studios, OddLot Entertainment, Marc Platt Productions, Motel Movies, 100 Minutes

Review:

“[on phone] There’s a hundred-thousand streets in this city. You don’t need to know the route. You give me a time and a place, I give you a five minute window. Anything happens in that five minutes and I’m yours. No matter what. Anything happens a minute either side of that and you’re on your own. Do you understand?” – Driver

Nicolas Winding Refn is a director I appreciate but have also had some issues with, as some of his films feel like style over substance and entirely miss their mark for me. That being said, this was really my introduction to Refn and upon initially seeing this, I thought it was spectacular.

It’s been awhile since I revisited it, however, and I wondered if my assessment would still be the same after having bad experiences with his films that followed it. I wondered if I might have just been captivated by the visuals and music of the picture that I gave a free pass to a film that really didn’t cut the mustard.

Well, I’m glad to say that I still think this is pretty exceptional. I think a lot of that has to do with the fact that Refn didn’t write this, unlike Only God Forgives and The Neon Demon. My other favorite film by Refn, Bronson, was co-written with another writer. So maybe Refn does his best work behind the camera, filming the stories and scripts of another writer (or co-writer that can massage out the overly pretentious crap).

Driver has one of the best opening sequences I have ever seen in the way that it builds suspense and introduces you to the main character, who remains nameless throughout the film. He’s quiet but intense and lives by a sort of code that ultimately, causes a lot of problems for himself and the few people who come into his orbit.

The film’s greatness is magnified by the performance of Ryan Gosling, who didn’t fully win me over until this role. He moves through every scene like a spectre, saying little and sort of just reacting to what happens around him. It’s a truly understated performance but it works so well for the picture’s tone and style.

There is mystery around the character, mystery around the swerves within the plot and nothing is really clear until the end and even then, you still don’t feel like you know this guy who you just spent 100 minutes with. But it’s hard not to respect him, even if he did terrible things because there’s a selflessness in his actions despite living a morally vacant and criminal life.

It’s apparent that his time with Carey Mulligan’s Irene and her son has left an impact on him that has brought him a newfound sense of morality. But ultimately, he can only respond with the tools and experiences that are most familiar to him and to the underworld he inhabits.

Despite the violence and the heinous things that happen within the film, there is a bizarre sweetness to it. There are few films that can make you feel so much for its characters when the actors’ performances are so low key.

But there are also a few actors in this who seem larger than life. Mostly, the two mob bosses played by Ron Perlman, at his slimy best, and Albert Brooks, who steals the show and whose performance here makes me wonder why he hasn’t been in a lot more movies. The dude was cold, callous but exuded a genuineness that lesser actors couldn’t have pulled off in quite the same way.

This film is greatly enhanced by the tremendous musical score from Cliff Martinez, as well as the use of synthwave music throughout the film. The music just feels perfectly married to the visual style of the film, which has a vibrant neo-noir look to it. This mixture of visual style and music can’t simply carry a picture though, as tapping this well again in Only God Forgives and The Neon Demon didn’t deliver the same results.

Drive is comprised off a lot of different elements that just came together and worked. I don’t think that it is something that can replicated easily, as Refn’s two following films showed. Here, it was just magic. And frankly, I think that Refn is better off adapting other people’s scripts or finding himself a great co-writer that can come in and make something that’s more coherent and emotional.

Rating: 9.5/10
Pairs well with: stylistically, other Nicolas Winding Refn films, other than that it is pretty unique.