Simon Ramshaw’s review published on Letterboxd:
A sketch of a man, trapped between his rock and a hard-boiled place.
I’ve always loved this movie, but I don’t think I ever truly knew why. This is just one of the most subtly sincere films, rich in empathy and tenderness towards its character and its real human beings. Driver is the character, feeling a touch of warmth for the first time from damaged angel Irene, who made some naive choices in her life. She’s not the only one; in fact, everyone has had a significant past, full of mistakes, hubris and, most importantly, the offer of a second chance. As Standard acknowledges, these are rare, and the film takes on an apocalyptic approach to the poor inhabitants of its tough world. And there’s Driver, trying to desperately break out of his archetypal roots and grab onto something real, something truthful. It’s a Sisyphusian task that Refn paints with the most humane strokes, something that has been lost in all the self-conscious, borderline self-parodying artifice of Only God Forgives and The Neon Demon. The real peak of tragedy in this deeply sad film is the elevator scene, a sequence of such passion that starts off as a romance and ends up as a horror in less than a minute. Driver finds that one split second of love, reciprocated through the most sorrowful of circumstances, and seals his fate by returning to his origins as a construct, a machine, a weapon even. Donning the mask of someone he is only the stand-in for, he disappears from his only relationship into the oblivion of brutality and torture he sorely tried to escape. And in that, becomes a real human being.
I’m not memeing. If you think this film is a meme, you’re doing it wrong. It’s a savage war between characters and drama, genre and truth, protagonists and humans. Refn will never make another film this achingly beautiful.