Movie review: Drive

Brad Keefe, Columbus Alive

Probably my favorite "Hey, you got peanut butter in my chocolate!" genre is the action art film, and this is shaping out to be a hell of a year for them.

Art-house fans are supposed to like leisurely paced (read: boring) period pieces, and action fans are supposed to like plotless knuckle-dragging thrills, right?

Well, I like a little existential dread in my action flicks. I like smart movies that are willing to shamelessly punctuate with bursts of violence.

I've already loved the relentlessly pace chase flick "Hanna" and the "Inception"-lite sci-fi twists of "Source Code." But "Drive" tops that list.

Almost absurdly brooding and oh-so-violent, it's not going to be for everyone, but you'll probably see it nestled in my year-end best list.

A Hollywood stunt driver (Ryan Gosling … yes, ladies, Ryan Gosling) moonlights as a criminal wheelman for hire. If you've got the cash, he'll give you a five-minute window, and you've got the best getaway driver in Los Angeles.

After a deliciously tense opening establishes this, the driver (nameless in the film and simply "Driver" in the credits) meets his single-mother neighbor Irene (Carey Mulligan). The romantic tension is thick, but Irene's baby daddy is on the verge of release from prison.

Meanwhile a plan hatched by his mentor (Bryan Cranston) could provide a way out of this life. But first, it involves getting deeper in bed with the criminal element.

Director Nicolas Winding Refn's film may not appeal beyond genre fans - of which I'm definitely one. In fact, the casual "Ooh, Ryan Gosling's in this!" crowd is going to get a final act that so brutally violent, I'd expect some walkouts.

Said violence is appropriately visceral, as any Tarantino fan would note. But it's the tender opening act that got me, particularly the efficient love story. Gosling and Mulligan set up more yearning with a quiet look than most feature-length romances.

There are notes of Michael Mann - including an '80s synth score - and I was often reminded of "The Wrestler" before things turn bloody.

The juxtaposition of the tender and the brutal is shamelessly manipulative. But that's what films do. I was blown away.


Opens Friday

4 stars out of 4