Nicholas Winding Refn


Originally written as a feature for The Oxford Student.

Since the release of 2011’s Drive, Danish writer/director Nicholas Winding Refn is making a name for himself amongst British cinema goers. In September Refn ranked third on The Guardian’s list of the 23 best directors in the world, further proving that he is gaining respect in a cinematic world where both film media and the UK box office are perpetually dominated by Hollywood directors.

However, Drive’s success cannot only be attributed to Refn’s native country; it’s also the first of his films to star Canadian sex symbol Ryan Gosling. Although unfairly judged by some as a gangster caper characterised by violence just for the sake of it, Drive also stands out for the well-developed character-driven story, thanks partly to Gosling’s turn as the unnamed protagonist known only as ‘the kid’.

Gosling was previously famed for his performances (and ab-flashing) in romantic dramas such as The Notebook and last year’s Crazy Stupid Love, but with Drive Refn gave him the opportunity to exhibit a very different set of skills.

In the film’s opening a neo-noir atmosphere is crafted through the sparing use of music and the muted colour palette which makes Gosling’s character the main focus. The close shots of his tensed jaw, blank expression and unreadable eyes are reminiscent of the ‘great stone face’, Buster Keaton. And for all the talking Gosling’s character does, sometimes Drive might as well be a silent movie like those Keaton made during the 1920s. Refn, who has penned many of his own films, including 2009’s Valhalla Rising, admits that he considers dialogue secondary to narrative.

It’s this minimal use of dialogue, as well as lingering close shots throughout, which allow Gosling to exhibit his skill at silent acting; he doesn’t need to shout in order to threaten the crime lords of LA’s underworld. However, Hossein Amini’s screenplay also allows Gosling’s character to show a more sensitive side; as well as following the kid’s seedy career as a getaway driver, the film documents his growing attachment to neighbour Irene, played by Carey Mulligan.

It seems Refn was also impressed with Gosling’s versatility. He is now slated to star in not one, but two of Refn’s upcoming films. The pair have recently finished shooting Only God Forgives on location in Bangkok. The progression of major cities as settings may invite comparison to Woody Allen, who has recently been inspired by more tourist-friendly cities, releasing Midnight in Paris and To Rome with Love in consecutive years. However, as Drive demonstrates, the tone of Refn’s work couldn’t be more different from the farcical comedy for which Allen first gained fame. Refn’s Only God Forgives is due next March, and although plot details are scant, it’s certain Gosling will be swinging his fists and taking some hits again, this time in a Thai boxing match.

Both Refn and Gosling have also signed up for the just-announced re-make of 1976 sci-fi flick Logan’s Run. Michael Anderson’s original film seems to be enjoying something of a revival; the concept of a booming population, and the corresponding solution of execution at age thirty, is comparable to the dystopian vision and death-race of Rian Johnson’s blockbuster Looper.

If their forthcoming projects are as successful as Drive, Gosling and Refn will be an actor/director duo to rival the likes of Michael Fassbender and Brit Steve McQueen, who have also collaborated on three separate projects. Like Gosling and Refn, Fassbender and McQueen share an interest in sensitively exploring controversial issues (such as sex addiction, in 2011’s Shame), and by combining their talent also deservedly steal the spotlight from Hollywood.

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