“Drive” is being pitched as an action film, a straight-up saga about a man who crashes cars as a movie stunt driver by day and helps crash businesses as a getaway driver by night.
In a more mainstream universe, this could be the set-up for a Jason Statham headbanger.
But that’s not what acclaimed Danish indie director Nicolas Winding Refn has in mind.
As chilly as a Copenhagen winter and often tensely quiet before exploding in brutal violence, “Drive” sometimes feel like an exercise, a foreigner’s academic take on a Hollywood genre piece.
Still, even though it doesn’t careen around corners, “Drive” proves to be a thrilling ride
Ryan Gosling is the nameless driver, the go-to guy if a car has to be driven hard and fast, whatever the reason. When he’s not rolling cars on cue or knocking over warehouses, he wants to be an auto racer, an ambition his mechanic (Bryan Cranston) is helping him with by introducing him to those who could bankroll him, mobsters played by Albert Brooks and Ron Perlman.
On the other hand, he’s falling for young mom Irene (Carey Mulligan), literally the girl next door, whose husband, Standard (the underrated Oscar Isaac), has just come home from prison. When the entire family is threatened because Standard still owes some gangsters money, Standard agrees to one last job to pay off his debt — and the driver agrees to help him.
The driver’s seemingly separate worlds collide and nothing goes as planned.
Gosling, whose career has exploded in the last year with such films as “Blue Valentine” and “Crazy, Stupid, Love,” is so unemotional that, at times, he verges on the somnambulent. While this can be unnerving, it echoes the rest of the film where everyone in Refn’s sun-baked noir world seems to be dead on the inside.
Yet, despite the torpor, the action scenes are gripping and Refn’s painterly way with a camera — cinematographer Newton Thomas Sigel also deserves a mention — adds visual allure.
“Drive” may not take the expected route to get to its destination, but it arrives there in style.