My first impression of Drive came from the official production notes: Ryan Gosling stars as a Los Angeles wheelman for hire, stunt driving for movie productions by day and steering getaway vehicles for armed heists by night. Though a loner by nature, Driver can't help falling in love with his beautiful neighbour Irene (Carey Mulligan), a vulnerable young mother dragged into a dangerous underworld by the return of her ex-convict husband Standard (Oscar Isaac).

After a heist intended to pay off Standard's protection money spins unpredictably out of control, Driver finds himself driving defense for the girl he loves, tailgated by a syndicate of deadly serious criminals (Albert Brooks and Ron Perlman). But when he realizes that the gangsters are after more than the bag of cash in his trunk - that they're coming straight for Irene and her son - Driver is forced to shift gears and go on the offense.

Okay, so nothing remarkable there; it sounds like a dozen or so movies we've seen before. But what is remarkable is how director, Nicolas Winding Refn, turns this rather pedestrian, clichéd story into a gripping action suspense thriller.

The opening car chase sequence immediately sets this film apart from its peers with its constantly shifting pace, from high speed pursuit to slinking through back streets in stealth mode, through to its neat conclusion. The opening sequence would make an effective short in its own right. It sets the tone for what will follow with the exception, perhaps, for the turn to sudden blinding violence in the films final act.

Performances are excellent from a cast including Albert Brooks and Ron Perlman. Gosling is well cast in the mold of Luc Besson's Leon; a nice guy prone to explosive acts of violence when backed into a corner. Is Mulligan miscast? Perhaps. It does raise questions as to how such a lovely girl could end up married to such an arsehole criminal husband. But then the whole women-falling-for-arseholes thing is something I've struggled to comprehend my whole life. And Jane Campion has garnered much critical praise for molding her films around such relationships, so what do I know? One thing that is sure, though, is that it's not hard to fall in love with Mulligan's character, and that is surely the litmus test of her performance.

Drive is a good example of what can be done with a Fast & Furious style flick when a confident, competent director resides in the driver's seat. It's exceptionally well made, well paced and tuned to an effective pulsing soundtrack and rightfully marks a highlight in the genre. Thankfully it's much harder and faster than the rather curious Pretty In Pink font that adorns its credits.
Stuart Jamieson

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