Can Ryan Gosling save ‘Only God Forgives’?

“Only God Forgives,” starring Ryan Gosling and Kristin Scott Thomas, opened on Friday to mixed (mostly negative) reviews. This art house/crime thriller film, written and directed by Nicolas Winding Refn, was nominated for the Palme d’Or at this year’s Cannes Film Festival.

In 2011, Refn, Gosling and Carey Mulligan teamed up for the eloquent and extremely violent “Drive.” You can read Stephanie Zacharek’s review of “Only God Forgives” here.

And on the small screen: The success of political-intrigue TV dramas such as “Scandal,” “House of Cards” and “Homeland” means the Beltway has displaced Manhattan and Los Angeles as the capital of noir, says James Wolcott in next month’s Vanity Fair. You can read the full story here.


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Highs outweigh the lows in London-set ‘Pusher’

Pusher/2012/Radius TWC/87 min.

“Pusher,” by director Luis Prieto, is a fun romp through familiar territory. Maybe romp isn’t quite the right word, given that this is a drug dealer’s violent, watch-your-back world full of sketchy thugs with extremely bad teeth, gorgeous strung-out girls and vicious power-brokers with very short tempers.

Prieto’s movie is based on Nicolas Winding Refn’s 1996 Danish film trilogy, also called “Pusher.” Winding Refn, who captivated American audiences last year with “Drive” starring Ryan Gosling and Carey Mulligan, is executive producer here.

This “Pusher” follows a dealer named Frank (Richard Coyle) as he goes about his illegal business over the course of a week in his home base of London. (The original was set in Copenhagen.)

When a big sale is interrupted by the cops, Frank improvises and saves his skin. But now he owes a wad of cash to a supplier and he tries to cobble together the cash under a looming deadline.

The story, scripted by Matthew Read, is formulaic and doesn’t probe much beyond the surface. But there’s so much energetic camerawork and such assured performances that I had a good time immersing myself in the seedy, sleazy glitz of London’s SE1.

Coyle’s Frank likely tells himself that this too shall pass, that soon he’ll be done with dealing once and for all. Frank is exactly the kind of guy – smart, cocky, very cute and fully deluded – who thinks he can breeze through the badness and eventually live a different life. Emphasis on eventually. Did I mention he was very cute?

Just as interesting to watch is blonde glamazon Agyness Deyn as Flo, his dancer girlfriend; she brings a depth to the part that also signals mystery and muted pain. It is perhaps a little hard to buy that Frank would choose as his sidekick a chattery simpleton like Tony (Bronson Webb) but Tony comes from a long line of nervous, weasely, all-talk henchmen, most memorably played by classic film-noir great Elisha Cook, Jr.

Croatian-Danish actor Zlatko Burić plays Milo, the portly crime lord who happily juggles chats over buttery pastries with sending his boys to bash people’s knees in. Burić played the same role in the 1996 trilogy and he effortlessly nails the part.

“Pusher” isn’t the most original movie you could watch, but perfection isn’t everything. Look at the awkward, seemingly incompetent, sidekick thugs I mentioned above. Sometimes just being psycho is enough.

“Pusher” opens today in New York and LA (at the Sundance Sunset Cinema in West Hollywood). It is also available via video on demand.

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‘Drive’ is full of killingly well-executed action scenes, sharp acting, ironic dialogue and ultra-snazzy visuals

Drive/2011/100 min.

By Michael Wilmington

“Drive” is a gut-twisting LA action movie, stripped to the bone, but also drenched with visual style. It’s about a driver played by Ryan Gosling who falls in love with the woman down the hall in his building, nervous Irene (Carey Mulligan), whose husband Standard (Oscar Isaac) just got out of jail and is being forced into another heist by shady moneymen Nino (Ron Perlman) and Bernie (Albert Brooks).

Albert Brooks

The show is full of killingly well-executed action scenes, sharp acting, ironic dialogue and ultra-snazzy visuals – all of which won Nicolas Winding Refn the Best Director prize at the last Cannes Film Festival. Hossein Amini wrote the script based on James Sallis’ novel.

It’s a movie built largely out of our memories of other movies, but that’s not necessarily bad. We know where this movie is coming from as soon as we know Gosling’s character has no name but The Driver – just like Ryan O’Neal in Walter Hill’s 1978 “The Driver.”

Neo-noir is this picture’s middle name, and its forebears include “The Driver” (of course); John Boorman’s 1968 “Point Blank” with Lee Marvin; Peter Yates’ 1968 “Bullitt” with Steve McQueen; and Michael Mann’s outlaw movies “Thief” (1980) and “Heat” (1995). As you’d expect from a movie with that kind of lineage, “Drive” begins with a great chase and gives us a little dip under Gosling’s opaque exterior by letting us know that he’s a movie stunt driver by day and a getaway driver at night. (He allows his robber/clients only five minutes to get back to his car).

He’s also a prospective race car driver, for whom his auto shop owner/patron Shannon (Bryan Cranston) wants to get sponsorship. Shannon turns to the very same criminal financiers, Nino and Bernie, who want Standard to pull a job for them, for which Standard wants The Driver to drive. And The Driver does, mostly because he’s in love with Standard’s wife, Irene, and his little son Benicio (Kaden Leos).

The movie alternates its always-thrilling action scenes with more emotional character stuff – including a brilliant turn, Oscar-worthy really, by Brooks as the falsely good-natured gangster and ex-movie producer Bernie. (In the ’80s, says Bernie, he did action stuff that some critic called “European.”) The classy cast sometimes seems to be getting paid for holding it all back, especially Gosling, whose minimalism here makes vintage Eastwood or McQueen look like John Barrymore.

As the film goes on, it gets more violent. The violent scenes are short but extremely bloody. Since the movie plays some of its carnage with razor-sharp comic timing (especially Brooks’ scenes), it becomes more and more disturbing as well. There’s something sinister and icily detached about that comic violence. “Drive” suggests a world where brutality is rampant, where greed rules, where immorality thrives.

Though Refn may not have really made a classic neo-noir, it’s a very good effort. A little more Albert Brooks maybe. Not too much. Five minutes or less.

Albert Brooks photo by Jim Spellman/WireImage/The New York Times

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