REVIEW: 'Drive' a High-Octane Neo-Noir Not for the Faint of Heart

“Drive” is the must-see indie sleeper of the season. Dark, brooding and layered with intrigue, forbidden love and high-octane car chases, “Drive” sounds like something out of a "Fast & the Furious" film, but this neo-noir is far from it.

Indeed, it is the anti-car film.

Based on the novel by James Sallis, “Drive” has the atmospheric tonalities of “Crash” and “Taxi Driver,” presenting Los Angeles as the most somber place on Earth. Driving the thousands of streets of L.A. is Ryan Gosling’s man-with-no-name. Gosling’s Driver lives and breathes behind the wheel, whether as a stunt driver for Hollywood’s big car chases by day or a slick and intelligent getaway driver for hoodlums at night. Gosling’s emotionally detached Driver is like a living ghost, slipping undetected through the LA grid.

A series of seemingly unrelated events interrupt Gosling’s quiet trajectory. His only friend, a wounded auto mechanic yet crafty get-rich-quick schemer (Bryan Cranston) gets Gosling involved with a shady ex-movie producer (Albert Brooks) with complicated mob ties, leading Driver down a gruesome and violent path. To make matters more difficult, the detached Gosling sparks up a relationship with his neighbor Irene (Carey Mulligan) and her son.

"Drive" features shot after brooding shot of a contemplative Gosling, which may turn off some impatient viewers. But the film is driven by Mat Newman’s editing and Cliff Martinez’s pulsating score, providing consistent intensity throughout. (The prologue also features one of the best suspenseful car chases in recent memory.) From that scene alone, you will be sucked into Gosling’s world and spun, tumbled and rolled like one of the Driver’s stunts.

Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn (“Pusher”) carries the starkness of his international films to “Drive,” providing emotional layers to the story.  The acting is top tier. Expect some awards attention for Albert Brooks’ crooked film producer. Cranston and Carey Mulligan give powerful yet understated performances. “Mad Men” star Christina Hendricks and Ron Perlman round out the supporting cast.

“Drive” unleashes a torrent of violence as the film progresses, so it may not be for the faint of heart. But “Drive” delivers big time with creative car chases, a gritty screenplay and fine performances, creating a multi-layered film noir.