Do not enter the path of the wicked,
and do not walk in the way of evildoers.
Avoid it; do not go on it;
turn away from it and pass on.
For they cannot sleep unless they have done wrong;
they are robbed of sleep unless they have made
For they eat the bread of wickedness
and drink the wine of violence.
Danish filmmaker Winding Refn’s film noir reminds me of the old Clint Eastwood spaghetti Westerns.
Not only is it stuffed with action and violence, but also its protagonist, ably played by Ryan Gosling, could be called the Man With No Name. We know him only as the Driver or “the kid.” We quickly learn that he is a skillful driver, knowing when to slow down as well as to accelerate and dodge his way in his Chevy Impala through the crowded streets of L.A. and on a movie lot. By day he is either turning over cars as a movie stunt driver or working on cars at the garage owned by his friend Shannon (Bryan Cranston).
As with the Western hero, we know nothing of the past of the Driver, and little of the present, except that he is a solitary figure trying to go his own way. By night the Driver hires himself out as a get away wheel man, his charge to the robbers being that he will give them just five minutes to get in and out before he pulls away. When a member of a gang of robbers is slow in getting out, the Driver needs all of his skills in eluding the quick-responding police who arrive at the scene. The chase is one of those dearly loved by action fans, with cars careening through streets, alleys, and sidewalks, pedestrians scrambling for their lives to get out of the way.
The Driver lives down the hall from Irene (Carey Mulligan), a seemingly single mother raising a charming little boy. Bit by bit he helps her in various situations, with both of them slowly drawn romantically together. This does not progress very far, however, because it turns out she has a husband Standard (Oscar Isaac), just released from prison.
Driver and Shannon have a dream of obtaining enough money to buy an expensive racing car in the hope that Driver’s skills can earn them a pile of money on the racing circuit. Shannon obtains a large loan from gangsters Bernie (Albert Brooks) and Nino (Ron Perlman) to buy a racer. These two prove to be very dangerous partners indeed. When Standard decides to return to his life of crime, Driver is at the wheel as he and a man and a woman set out to rob a pawnshop where a large bag of money has been cached by an eastern syndicate. When the heist goes horribly awry, Driver finds himself with the bag of money, and is pursued by the Bernie and Nino and their goons, who threaten Irene and her son.
Ryan Gosling, so vulnerable as the ultra shy hero of Lars and the Real Girl, is the main reason for seeing this violent film. Quiet and reserved, he can be gentle and loving as he relates to Irene’s little boy, carefully tucking him into bed in one scene. And then he can quickly become a killing machine as in an elevator scene he stomps into a bloody pulp the head of a hit man out to kill him and her. She is so appalled at what she witnesses that she runs away from him.
After further chases and mayhem, Driver discovers that the way he has chosen is a costly one, for those whom he cares about as well as for himself. By enmeshing himself with the gangsters he discovers the truth in the proverb quoted above. Bernie and Nino do indeed “…eat the bread of wickedness and drink the wine of violence.” Breaking bread with them has its inevitable harmful consequences, driving him further into the lonely solitude from which he had found release for a brief period. I doubt that director Winding Refn had any of this in mind when he made this film (I have seen one of his films Valhalla Rising, an equally bloody, violent film in which I could find far fewer redeeming points.), but for those able to sit through it and willing to think about it, there is an implicit moral or warning that the author(s) of Proverbs would approve.
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