The Cannes film festival got a shot of high-octane drama on Friday with "Drive," a violent film-noir thriller set in Los Angeles, rich in Detroit iron and inspired in part by the Brothers Grimm.
Canadian actor Ryan Gosling stars in Danish auteur Nicolas Winding Refn's tale of a solitary Hollywood stunt-car driver and part-time wheelman for armed robbers who morphs into a cold-blooder killer after a pawn-shop heist gone bad.
Based on a James Sallis novella, it's one of the few films up for the Palme d'Or - the coveted top prize to be awarded on Sunday when the festival wraps - that doesn't dwell on dysfunctional families or sexual deviants.
Refn, 40, who calls "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" his all-time favourite movie, has a strong track record for crime flicks, including the ultra-violent 2006 Sundance festival opener "Bronson".
"Drive," however, owes something to the Grimms' fairy tales which Refn said he has been telling his own young daughter.
"While I was reading them, I thought it would be interesting to make a movie just like a fairy tale," he said, albeit one about a "psychotic" man of few words who drives the streets like a knight "looking for someone to save".
Refn is one of two Danes in the running for the Palme d'Or. The other is veteran Lars van Trier, who was barred Thursday from the festival over remarks he made about Hitler, although his "Melancholia" remains in competition.
"Drive" makes the most of its bleak La La Land setting and an all-American cast of wheels including a plain-vanilla Chevrolet Impala, a pimped-up Monte Carlo and an elephantine Chrysler 300 that Gosling totals with a Ford Mustang.
"The film had to be shot in Los Angeles because the book is very much about movie mythology," said the director, who ironically has no driver's licence. "And my wife wasn't going to live in Detroit."
Oscar nominee Carey Mulligan co-stars as the innocent next-door neighbour befriended by Gosling's character, known simply as Driver, and Oscar Isaac is her husband whose early release from prison turns the plot.
Christina Hendricks of television's "Mad Men" appears briefly as a robber's accomplice who is among the first of many to be blown away in graphic Quentin Tarantino-style fashion.
Cannes jury president Robert De Niro will no doubt see something of Travis, his legendary "are you lookin' at me" character in Martin Scorcese's Palme d'Or winner "Taxi Driver", in Gosling's crisp portrayal of Driver.
Fellow juror Uma Thurman should likewise feel at home with the shotgun blasts and gushing blood that recall her work with Tarantino in another Cannes winner, "Pulp Fiction".
Refn, whose director-editor father Anders Refn is a major figure in Denmark's close-knit film industry, shoots his scenes in chronological order and thus found that "Drive" "dictated the way it wants to be made".
"When you make a film like this, it's like working in freefall - like, 'let's see what happens'," he said of his "hyper-realistic fairy tale".Reuse content