Cannes 2011: With Ryan Gosling’s ‘Drive,’ a different Dane gets his moment


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The focus these last few days at Cannes has been on Lars von Trier and the controversial Nazi comments he made after unveiling his movie ‘Melancholia.’ But another Dane pulled the wraps off his new film Thursday night on the Croisette, and he’s getting attention for all the right reasons.

Nicolas Winding Refn, a genre director who is swimming in high-end auteur waters for the first time, got some of the best responses of the festival when his bloody Scandinavian-flavored crime piece “Drive” debuted to the media Thursday night.


Starring Ryan Gosling as an automotive stuntman and laconic tough guy who’s as dexterous with his fists as he is with a steering wheel, the in-competition film winds through a tender relationship (with Carey Mulligan), a mob-centric heist and a general study in violence and (a)morality. Judging by the enthusiastic audience reaction, it’s a blend that worked. (You can add it as the seventh film on our six-films-to-watch-shortlist from earlier in the week.)

‘Drive,’ which comes to U.S. theaters in September, also has a Nordic moodiness and style. In fact, rarely before can we remember something so Scandinavian in sensibility being recast as something this American -- the film is set in Los Angeles (note an opening sequence involving a Clippers fantasy scenario) and features a deep bench of Hollywood talent that includes Bryan Cranston, Albert Brooks and Christina Hendricks. It’s also based on a hard-boiled American novel by James Sallis.

Winding Refn is probably best known for the Danish-language “Pusher” trilogy, about the Copenhagen underworld, as well as “Bronson,” a black comedy about a dangerous criminal. But he’s a newbie when it comes to competing against world-cinema legends like the Dardennes and Pedro Almodovar.

Then again, he may be at the fore of a new trend. Scandinavian-inflected movies, particularly of the genre kind, have been gaining popular appeal in the U.S. in recent years -– witness remakes of vampire tale “Let the Right One In’ and hacker mystery ‘The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo’ -- while the dark-winter-of-the-soul action tales of Christopher Nolan have been carving out their place at the Oscar table. Perhaps it was only a matter of time before a movie with a genre skin and a Nordic heart got its big-stage Cannes moment.


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--Steven Zeitchik