One of this year's most intriguing movies.


An Illusion Review by Joan Ellis

            This is a director's movie, and Nicolas Winding Refn lets us know what he's up to in short order. He's after mood and tone - not only of time and place but of character and personality. His cast understands exactly what he's after, and the result is a movie of high style and mysterious human dilemma. The brutal, bloody, graphic violence is integral to this particular story set in the dark underbelly of Los Angeles crime. If you don't have the stomach for stylized violence pulp fiction style, then pass it by, but if you do, you'll miss one of this year's most intriguing and finely crafted movies.
            First, the premise. Ryan Gosling plays a man who drives by day as a stunt man for movies and by night as a getaway driver for criminals. He also works as a highly skilled mechanic in a garage run by Shannon (Bryan Cranston). As the story unfolds, we learn nothing at all about the driver except who he is in a given moment. As these moments are strung together, we begin to sense decency in this man who has no name and no backstory. Except why, we wonder, does he drive getaway for thieves?
            The driver lives a few doors down the hall of a set of seedy apartments from Irene (Carey Mulligan), a single mother of a beautiful little boy, Benicio (Kaden Leos). Here comes the love story is what we think, and it does. The couple falls in love in silence with only their expressions to tell each other - and us - us what is happening in this subtle love story. As jarring as it seems to see a lovely young woman in these rundown surroundings, the sight is consistent with the director's view. He has focused on an idealized couple at the center of urban brutality, and it is enormously effective.
            As the driver falls completely for both mother and son, all his subsequent actions flow from his determination to protect them. There will be plenty of need for that. A husband getting out of jail but in debt to the underworld, various criminals with scores to settle, vengeance and betrayal among thieves. Credit Albert Brooks and Ron Perlman with being especially effective at being vicious. And prepare to be stunned by the driver's intuitive killing skills. Is this who he is, or is it his only solution to the vulnerability of the two he loves? We are left to wonder.
            From the opening credits - harsh pink against a black background, to the canvas of violence, to the breath stopping driving scenes, every gesture is choreographed. Wounds are inflicted with the moves of a dancer. A bloody jacket becomes a way to blend into a crowd as does a bland Chevy Impala with a newly installed 300 h.p. engine. Nobody will notice. This movie is all about style. Ryan Gosling is superb, everything and everyone else merely terrific.


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