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Drive takes on a familiar genre in a new way, and is worth a watch

By Joe Gieringer
On January 29, 2013

With nothing that particularly caught my eye coming out this past week, I decided to dig through the ol' DVD bin and see what I should re-watch. I eventually settled on Drive, Nicolas Winding Refn's 2011 moody action/thriller that warranted a standing ovation at the Cannes Film Festival in which it premiered.

In a year that saw Ryan Gosling become a bona fide star, Drive was his best outing by a mile. The film opens with one of the most impressive chase scenes in recent movie history - in which our nameless hero evades police in a heart pounding getaway attempt, all the while listening intently to the exciting conclusion to the Clippers game on his radio.

The Driver has no background, no family and no name. He's a motion picture stuntman and mechanic by day, and an elite getaway driver by night. He falls in love with his beautiful, innocent neighbor, whose husband is in jail and whose son is in need of a father figure. On paper, this sounds like a train wreck of a movie.

In reality, that couldn't be further from the truth. Refn saturates his stylistic film with sharp color contrasts and extraordinary cinematography, highlighted by a pulsing, synth-laden soundtrack that steeps Drive in an atmospheric, 80's attitude. The scene when the Driver takes love interest Irene (Carey Mulligan) and her son Benicio for a sun-soaked afternoon drive as College & Electronic Youth's "A Real Hero" plays in the background had me hooked.

The narrative is surprisingly fresh, even though Refn lets the camera do most of the talking. Good turns from Ron Perlman and Albert Brooks as the ruthless criminals showcase the cast's talent, and Bryan Cranston's likeable Shannon helps keep Drive's wheels turning, even in the face of the slow, calculated approach that Refn takes to set the story up, which he adapted from the James Sallis novel of the same name.

It is ultimately Gosling who sells it, however, with his earnest looks and collected, unphased exterior. He was the coolest man on the silver screen all year, and he lets you know it every time he cracks that half smile with the toothpick protruding. He probably doesn't say much more than 200 words for the entire hour and forty minutes of run time, which makes his performance all the more powerful, a la the John Wayne, "man of few words" type of action hero.

Whether it is his tender interactions with Irene and Benicio, his commanding presence in the midst of a job, or his go-for-broke desperation as he tries to right all wrongs in the last act of the movie, when the Driver speaks he demands our attention. And when he doesn't speak, it's the way he carries himself that does the talking for him.

Drive very well might be my favorite movie of 2011. It's criminally under-seen and even more so under-appreciated, as it came away with no major awards of any kind. Realistic and gritty, heartfelt and touching, Refn's cinematic darling was one of the biggest surprises of the decade and it merits at least a few viewings. And luckily for you, it's available on Netflix streaming. So as February rolls around and you find yourself cold and looking for a good picture to pass the time, look no further than this visceral thriller that will make you want to get out of your seat and drive.

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