The film, for me, is more of a piece of visual art. There’s rarely a scene where the lighting reveals the entire setting; rather, Refn prefers to have characters placed just right so that the light can hit their faces while shining through holes in the wall. The low light and the careful staging of each shot comes across as so calculated in a film where most actions seem to be impulsive. I found a lot of the cinematography to be very Kubrick-ian: the symmetry of scenes, the tracking shots and the dominating score all combine to give the audience the feeling that what’s happening isn’t quite of this world.
The story spends a lot of time exploring its own themes, so much so that it feels lost at several points; however, the way the story is told more than makes up for it. While the cinematography is fantastic, the acting is also very good. Kristin Scott Thomas totally steals the show. She plays a mother who has seemingly always adored Billy, leaving Julian to constantly try to earn her approval. Ryan Gosling is also great, playing a character similar to the Driver with his puppy dog eyes and ability to snap convincingly into fits of ultra-violence.
I very much enjoyed this film, despite its poor critical reception. While the story definitely had problems, if you can overlook those you’ll find a great film. There’s Refn’s signature – ultraviolent action with several scenes of wall to wall blood – along with amazing visuals set to harrowing electronic soundtrack and a thought-provoking story questioning morality, justice and family.