(Like many Netflix customers, I too can get quite lax with the timely watching and returning of my movies, which of course defeats the entire purpose of having a flat-rate rental plan in the first place. To combat that, I am now writing standardized mini-reviews of each and every movie I end up watching through Netflix, both instantly and on DVD. Don't forget, all previous 'Justify My Netflix' reviews can be found on CCLaP's main movie page.)
Why I added it to my queue: Because despite its indie status, this turned out to be the most talked-about film of 2011 (or at least among my circle of friends), even more impressive by it being helmed by obscure Danish "torture porn" director Nicolas Winding Refn, who before this was known by Americans if at all for his ultra-violent minimalist Viking tone-poem Valhalla Rising.
The reality: Believe the hype! Because really, all you need to know about this to make it worth your while is that it's like taking every moody Tangerine Dream scene from the '80s actioner Risky Business and stringing them together for two hours; and so as someone who was emotionally moved by such scenes back when I was a teen in the actual 1980s, then had to spend the '90s being viciously made fun of for it, I'm glad to see someone here in the 2000s make a case for how legitimately affecting such scenes really are. And indeed, this entire movie in general can be fairly well summed up as a loving tribute to Michael Mann (creator of Miami Vice, among other such moody '80s hits), on the surface a cheesy neo-noir whose every plot development can be easily guessed by genre-savvy contemporary audiences, but that elevates itself literally on style alone, as well as such bizarre but inspired casting as Ron Perlman as a Jewish gangster, Carey Mulligan as a Latina mom, and Albert Brooks as a violent killer. A film not to dissect so much as to simply let wash over you, it's a pitch-perfect example of how great a cheesy genre flick can be when done with panache by someone whose tongue is far away from their cheek; and while all the loose talk it received during this year's awards season made it seem at times like a movie more substantial than it actually is (because make no mistake, this is nothing more than a well-done crime film, and expecting more will automatically lead to disappointment), I also have to admit that this movie has stayed with me in the same kind of deep way usually reserved for smarter, more complex films, a good indication of its potential lasting power. It comes strongly recommended in that spirit.
Strangest piece of trivia: Jet-lagged, sick, and having found out earlier that day that a major project with Harrison Ford had just fallen through, Refn's very first meeting with star Ryan Gosling (who had specifically requested him when signing on) infamously ended with the two of them aimlessly driving around Los Angeles in the middle of the night, where during a random radio play of REO Speedwagon the filmmaker suddenly burst into uncontrollable tears, declaring that the film they would make would for two hours feel exactly like the emotional moment they had just shared.
Worth your time? Yes