Ryan Gosling shines as a nameless auto mechanic and Hollywood stunt driver who uses his skills behind the wheel to moonlight as a getaway guy for criminals in the moody, existential thriller Drive. Clients get five minutes only, no more no less, for them to do their dirty work and hop back inside to evade the cops. Then Gosling burns rubber.

This highly stylized, meditative piece from Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn is an arthouse-meets-action movie that appeals both to the head and the heart. Drenched in a kitschy neon glow, and accompanied by a soundtrack reminiscent of the electronic pulse of 80s pop, Drive has the look and feel of classic noir.

Opening with a thrilling chase scene that quickly establishes Gosling’s character as a strong, silent brooder who knows his way around Los Angeles’ streets, the film proceeds to introduce us to its other key players. Bryan Cranston is the crippled garage owner who sets up our hero with his jobs, both legal and criminal. He also draws him into contact with two local mob bosses, played by Albert Brooks and Ron Perlman. After befriending a neighbor, played by Carey Mulligan, who lives alone with her son, our hero finds himself in an awkward position when her husband is released from prison and returns home. Out of inherent decency, he offers to help the husband pull off one last job so he can pay off the criminals who’ve been threatening the wife and kid. Things, however, go badly wrong.

Drive takes a simple story and sexes it up with funky treatment. The scenes move leisurely in the film’s early portions with minimal dialogue, but as the plot kicks in closer to the halfway mark, the stage is set for some brutal, visceral action. In many scenes, the tone changes unexpectedly from a dreamlike tranquility to sudden bursts of violence, like one particularly memorable sequence in an elevator.

The acting is top notch from the entire cast, and the sexual chemistry between Gosling and Mulligan is beautifully understated. Mulligan, in fact, is radiant and brings just the right hint of melancholy to the part of a damaged woman. But the film is anchored by Gosling’s quietly charming performance; as a character with no back-story, his appeal lies in the air of mystery that surrounds him.

I’m going with three-and-a-half out of five for Drive. It’s a flashy firecracker of a film that’s held up by a smoldering central performance. Don’t miss it!

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