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Released: September 23rd 2011 UK)

Director: Nicolas Winding Refn

Stars: Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan

Certificate: 18 (UK)

Reviewer:Philippe Ostiguy

Man, I hope you’re in decent shape, because your body’s about to feel like it’s running a marathon. Nicolas Winding Refn and Drive reinvent the action flick, not unlike Tarantino did two decades ago, and they’re out to thrill you right down to your core. Not an easy task, but thank their ambition the results are elating. Watching Drive, your heartbeat steadies itself at a worrying pace while your brain races to keep up with the multiple strata of stimulation the film lays out, and after one hundred minutes you’d beg for more – if you weren’t so exhausted.

It’s about The Driver (Ryan Gosling), a man with no apparent past or future who drives for movie stunts by day and for robbers by night, taking them from the crime scene to safety. He is cool, calm and calculating but not entirely superhuman – though he seems to act in cold-blood, he often lets vivid emotion take the wheel. His kryptonite is Irene (Carey Mulligan), a neighbour, and her son Benicio whose father endangered by getting in trouble with the wrong people. Our driver’s attempt to protect them spirals to disaster as his bad luck sharpens and the body count rises – a plot which, admittedly, fits nicely within the genre’s tradition.

But Drive is tainted just about the darkest shade of noir. We’re talking headlights and bloodbaths, leather seats and dirty hands and more bullets than gunshots. Refn and cinematographer Newton Thomas Sigel create a menacing, still atmosphere that wraps the story beautifully, their attention to detail obvious through stunning lighting, frame composition and exploitation of L.A.’s oft-forgotten potential. Few modern pictures portray the city as being real and gritty, as having a soul, yet here it is to Drive what Tokyo is to Lost in Translation, what Chicago is to The Blues Brothers. And as it should, L.A. brings what L.A. brings – inhabitants with blurry pasts and intentions, fake smiles and mechanical handshakes. Dialogue being kept to a minimum, their psyche and relationships are understood through the choices that drive them together and apart rather than through words.

And beyond the violence, the mind-blowingly slick style and the opaque characters, Drive digs deep. Its pace, uncharacteristically slow, and its powerful ambiance allow the depiction of its characters not only as heroes, victims or villains but also as lonely human beings each faced with the echo of their own worries. It craftily opposes sentiment to its gangster storyline via its visual and sonic universes, the killer soundtrack composed of melancholic, feminine 80’s-inspired electronic songs and the aforementioned cinematography both showcasing acute sensibility – sensibility most action filmmakers wouldn’t dare consider. This opposition is precisely what makes Drive, still quintessentially virile, so unique from the brilliant opening sequence on: the suspense is not born from empirically-tested checklist scenes à la Die Hard, it is found in the space between the characters even in their safest, happiest moments because they and the viewers both know too well something’s gotta give. Not now, but soon.

The movie is so successful because it is entirely self-aware, playing on its many strengths and quirks; patiently, expertly building a story and telling it in a way we’ve never heard before; becoming both an A-class thriller and a fascinating art film that will undoubtedly end up as one of the year’s best and, should justice exist, make noise come the Academy Awards. Really, it’s just so goddamned cool.

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