Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn debuted on the scene in 1996, and he’s made eight feature films as of this writing. Some have been critically acclaimed, others have been box-office flops, and his most recent, Drive, won him the prestigious Best Director Award at the Cannes Film Festival.
If you’re looking for sentimentality and mushy love stories, Nicolas Winding Refn movies are not for you. His cinematic landscape is populated with violent drug dealers, tormented husbands, and even one-eyed killing machines from the age of Vikings. But in spite of all the bloodletting, Refn manages to reach deeper levels of his characters and present complicated individuals seeking to make their way in a chaotic world.
I’ve only seen three Nicolas Winding movies to date, but I’ve been impressed with his visual style and storytelling ability. His first major American release will be hitting theatres soon, and I’m excited for audiences who’ll get to experience his vision for the first time. If you’ve yet to hear of this dynamic filmmaker, now’s a perfect time to delve into his works.
Nicolas Winding Refn Movies I’ve Seen
The following titles make up the list of Nicolas Winding Refn movies I’ve seen so far:
Refn wrote and directed this debut film that’s been hailed as the first Danish-language gangster movie. Kim Bodnia is powerful as Frank, a complicated drug dealer whose life falls apart due in part to a hooker girlfriend, inept pal (Mads Mikkelsen), and Serbian drug lord who loves to bake. Bodnia would deservedly become a major star in his home country after the release of the film, and Refn would be off and running on his big-screen career. Fans of Martin Scorsese are urged to check it out, and I was pleasantly surprised after stumbling across the film on Netflix.
Alternating between dark humor and relentless brutality, this Refn film tells the real-life story of Charles Bronson, a UK criminal who’s one of the nation’s most notorious inmates. Scenes of Bronson in prison are broken up by the character’s fictional appearance in a stage play about his life, and lead actor Tom Hardy gets to mug, menace, and meltdown. After seeing his performance, I’m looking forward to seeing what he does with the character of Bane in Christopher Nolan’s upcoming The Dark Knight Rises.
Valhalla Rising (2009)
This is not an action movie, so don’t go into it with that mindset. Sure, there are some quality scenes of grown men killing one another, but the rest is something akin to a surrealistic journey into the underworld with a one-eyed warrior (the wonderfully stoic Mads Mikkelsen) acting as our guide. I’ll confess to preferring the first half of the film over the second, although the Morten Soborg cinematography gives the entire movie a harsh, melancholy beauty.
Nicolas Winding Refn Movies I Plan on Seeing
I haven’t seen all the Nicolas Winding Refn films available, so the following list includes those I intend to watch in the near future:
Fear X (2003)
Refn described the movie as a tale of an idealist confronted with reality, but that didn’t make anyone want to see it. This film about a man (John Turturro–a classic movie loser) driven to learn the truth behind his wife’s death was a huge box-office bomb, and Refn’s production company was driven into bankruptcy as a result. This forced him to turn out a couple of sequels to Pusher, and I’m curious to see if it was as bad as the dollar signs would indicate.
Pusher 2 (2004)
Mads Mikkelsen returns as Tonny, the hard-luck pal of Frank from the first film. This time Tonny is just getting out of prison, and he’s forced to learn about fatherhood while resuming his life of crime. I enjoyed Pusher, and I’m a Mads Mikkelsen fan, so this title is currently sitting in my queue.
Pusher 3 (2005)
Serbian drug lord Milo (Zlatko Buric) was featured prominently in the first two films, but now he gets to headline. While trying to kick his drug habit and cook for his daughter’s birthday party, this friendly-yet-lethal crook manages to evoke humor and brutal terror as he deals with the underbelly of society. Milo was one of my favorites in the original, so I’m eager to see him have the spotlight to himself.
This action film is set to hit U.S. theaters in September of 2011, which is still over a month away as of this writing. I’m excited about it, though, as all signs point to a high-octane flick that’s a throwback to grindhouse films and cop movies from the 1980s. Ryan Gosling gets to try his luck as an action hero while playing a Hollywood stuntman who serves as a getaway driver for criminals in his spare time. Carey Mulligan, Ron Perlman, and Albert Brooks co-star, and the positive reaction at Cannes included a standing ovation. Maybe this will be the spark that reignites the action genre.
While Danish films may not be at the top of the list for most American moviegoers, I urge you to give these Nicolas Winding Refn movies a try. They’re every bit as gritty as movies like Reservoir Dogs, and they possess an entertaining mixture of action and black humor. The next time you want to think outside the box for an evening of movie rentals, you could do a whole lot worse.
Updated–since I wrote this post, Refn has also made Only God Forgives. His next scheduled film is called I Walk with the Dead and will star Carey Mulligan.