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Archive for the tag “Nicolas Winding Refn”

Ryan Gosling Teams Back Up with Nicolas Winding Refn for “Only God Forgives”

Just knowing that Nicolas Winding Refn is directing Only God Forgives would be enough for me to want to go see it. However, after seeing the above trailer, it quickly jumped to one of my most anticipated films in the coming months. Nicolas Winding Refn has proven he is a talented director (see Drive and Valhalla Rising) and with Only God Forgives, he rejoins Ryan Gosling, who starred in his prior film Drive. This bodes well for this release as the two seem to work quite well together, with Gosling able to really let his acting skills out with Refn’s characters. Let’s hope Refn can continue his streak of high quality films. If you enjoy crime thrillers and striking visuals, and don’t mind some quite graphic violence, look out for Only God Forgives when it releases this July.

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“Valhalla Rising” (2009) Review

Valhalla Rising poster

If I said the name Nicolas Winding Refn, many of you would not recognize it at all. Those that do would likely recognize him as a talented director with a penchant for highly violent films – the most recent of which was “Drive”, for which Refn won a Best Director award at Cannes. After seeing “Drive”, and after having “Valhalla Rising” on my radar for a while now, I was expecting a quality film. Calling “Valhalla Rising” simply a quality film, though, does not do this wonderful film justice.

As a note of warning, “Valhalla Rising” is quite graphic in its violence – those with weak stomachs (for those who have seen the film, no pun intended) may be put off and quit after the film’s first section.

To start, the plot of “Valhalla Rising” features both a straightforward story that is deeper than meets the eye, along with a heavy emphasis on its characters. The voyage of the captive warrior, One-Eye, and his boy companion is quite gripping – its qualities quickly brought to mind “The Road” for me. This story is presented in six parts with each part bringing One-Eye closer to his ultimate fate. The blending of Norse mythology, Christian crusades, and human conflict creates a tense backdrop for the film’s characters to interact. While it may be hard to follow at times, the plot is rewarding for those who pay attention (Film-watching note: One-Eye shares similar traits and characteristic with a certain Norse god).

The most amazing thing about how the plot operates in “Valhalla Rising” is how little dialogue takes place in the film – One-Eye actually does not speak a single word throughout the film. Yet, the story is able to stay cohesive and characters express so much with this minimal dialogue.

Despite this minimal dialogue there is still a constant soundscape present courtesy of the well-crafted, foreboding soundtrack. The soundtrack varies from ambient to droning to distorted, heavy guitar, all capturing and enhancing each moment of One-Eye’s voyage. Though there is a lack of set, composed pieces, I will say that this is an incredible soundtrack that perfectly matches the piece it is accompanying.

Even without speaking a single word for the entire film, Mads Mikkelsen still manages to bring the character of One-Eye to life.

Even without speaking a single word for the entire film, Mads Mikkelsen still manages to bring the character of One-Eye to life.

Coming back around to the characters, I have to give credit to the entire cast for really working well with the minimal dialogue script. Mads Mikkelsen, as One-Eye, offers a particularly good performance, connecting the viewer to his character without saying a word. Maarten Stevenson also does a nice job as The Boy, again bringing back a memory of Kodi Smit-McPhee in “The Road”.

Lastly, I could not finish this review with talking about one of the film’s best qualities, its visual presentation. From the camera work, to the use of color filters, to some beautiful scenery, Refn has created an outstanding visual feast for this film. Some intense color saturation and perfectly positioned characters and lighting among the surrounding make for some great scenes that really show Refn’s skill as a director. This is definitely one of the most visually-creative films I’ve seen in a while.

There are few films that can get away with some of the design choices for “Valhalla Rising”, yet Refn manages to put so many high quality pieces together to make a tense, foreboding action film. Despite its slow pace and occasional self-indulgence, “Valhalla Rising” is a very well put together film. Those looking for a film heavy on the action and violence will be lost by the midway point as the film moves at a slow pace compared to any mainstream action film. Those who enjoy stylish visuals and a character-driven plot, though, will surely enjoy this film, along with any fans of Refn or those looking for an interesting adventure film.

Final Score: 8.5/10

“Drive” (2011) Review

Drive Poster

Far too often are action movies focused solely on achieving the biggest explosions, unbelievable car chases, and one-against-the-world type heroes. These films lack the desire to have a plot any more complicated than the villain doing some kind of villainous deed to warrant the hero’s need to see him apprehended. “Drive” takes a different approach to the genre. Here, we have an unlikely hero who, in trying to help out a neighbor, becomes involved in a deadly situation.

One thing becomes obvious as you begin to experience “Drive” – there is minimal dialogue throughout the film. The conversations that do occur are beautifully written, and at times the silence is perfectly suited, but the film does begin to feel barren at times without more interaction. This has a direct influence on the plot of the film.

The plot itself is smartly constructed and wonderfully paced. Ryan Gosling plays a stuntman who also works as a mechanic and a getaway car driver. As he begins to get involved with his neighbor and boss, in trying to get away from his dirtier business, he becomes embroiled in a complicated mob scheme. It is nice to see a (somewhat) ordinary person become the hero through a series of events involving people he just wants to help. The film has some nice twists throughout and is always in constant motion. Even with the minimal dialogue, the relationships between characters are nicely developed and have you invested in their fates. Yet, I still feel that with some more dialogue, some scenes and relationships could have been even better. The movie still succeeds with this approach due to the wonderful work by its cast. Gosling and Mulligan complement each other well, and the villains, Albert Brooks and Ron Perlman, suit their roles perfectly.

Gosling and Mulligan manage to create some great on-screen chemistry with minimal conversation.

Gosling and Mulligan manage to create some great on-screen chemistry with minimal conversation.

As far as the cinematography goes, there is some great camera work that really accentuates the slick car chase sequences. Even when the action stops, the camera manages to add a nice layer of style to the film. One thing it also captures as well is the brutal violence in various scenes. There are some intense moments and Refn never shies away from showing every grisly detail.

Lastly, one other thing that detracts from parts of the film (like the dialogue) is the soundtrack. At certain points, the soundtrack is wonderful, varying from pulsing synths to laid-back clean tracks. Yet, some scenes have odd choices for sound, and in a film staying low on the dialogue, a more prominent and fitting soundtrack is needed to help give each scene some more weight.

Among the generic action and crime dramas being released, “Drive” stands out with its intelligent writing and plot. Though there some missteps with the dialogue and soundtrack, the film strays from the norm and successfully creates a refreshing crime drama that grabs your attention and doesn’t let go.

Final Score: 8/10

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