Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn revs up an edgy, unrelenting action thriller after some noticeable build-up set in Los Angeles that has small B-movie guilty pleasure written all over it. From the top honors in his profession at Cannes earlier this year and potential advertising and box-office returns, Refn may be able to do more when his international status is cemented.
Drive stars Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan and is rather spare in dialogue but more than makes up in spectacle and sound, not just from a pulsating synthetic soundtrack sprinkled with some classical tunes.
The central character in an austere, moody piece is Gosling's technically savvy Driver (a bit like Jason Statham in The Mechanic) who services getaways (promising a five-minute window) when not a Hollywood wheelman sometimes crashing a car for a movie with a prosthetic face.
An arguably disposable plot loosely adapted by Hossein Amini from a James Sallis book works from Driver putting his professional race car circuit dreams on hold when the cool guy lets down his emotional guard.
Problems ensue with his neighbor and young mother Irene (Mulligan of Never Let Me Go) he takes interest in whose ex-con husband Standard (Oscar Isaac) is released early for good behavior but stuck with "protection money" while doing time. So, Driver does a job for Standard that has disparate visceral impact from its heist-gone-bad circumstances as a nefarious syndicate is connected to his dual profession agent of a smalltime crook Shannon (Bryan Cranston, doing quite well on the acclaimed small-screen original series Breaking Bad).
Refn handles this cinematic infrastructure with much verve as romance and wit coalesce into a stylish crime noir that employs some of his artistic European leanings. It's something in the spirit of Quentin Tarantino that nods a bit to the likes of Walter Hill and Michael Mann. Initially there's a chase sequence and a stunt, but not as much roadway stuff as one might be let to believe.