Director Winding Refn seems to like the occasional outbreak of violence. His last two previous outputs - Valhalla Rising and Bronson - were no strangers to onscreen violence.
Nor has he been a stranger to plaudits either with his biopic that introduced the world to Tom Hardy garnering rave reviews and now his latest receiving critical acclaim that would normally be lavished upon a period drama.
This is essentially a tale of a loner who becomes embroiled in events that do not directly concern him but end up having him put his lifestyle and his life itself on the line for another. Think Jean Reno's Leon but, instead of a hitman with a gun, replace them with a stunt driver and a car and you start to get the picture.
From the outset, Drive looks, feels and sounds like a lost film from the 80's that's been discovered and brought out to show people what cool looked like back then. It feels like the younger, more dangerous brother of Risky Business with it's synth-pop soundtrack and it's dream-like, slo-mo sequences that show the city of L.A. in a love-tinted light.
Also, in it's beginning sequence, we see Gosling's character introduce himself via voice-over in dull, begrudging tones, not unlike Ford's one in the original Blade Runner. He's a man with a job to do that has rules that will be followed, or else. The first "job" witnessed by the audience may just be the first authentic display of evading the police after a robbery ever committed to screen - not so much a car chase as a methodical, calmly-executed game of cat-and-mouse using bridges and in plain view to hide from an over run police force.
Gosling may be behind the wheel and in control of the film, but many of his co-star/passengers that are along for the ride, prove their worth. Mulligan channels her recent Never Let Me Go vulnerability as the next door neighbour with child caught up in her criminal husbands life, making you want the loner to step in and step up to the challenge she inadvertently represents. Brooks and Pearlman as squabbling low-life partners create plausible menace for you to be uncertain of the drivers success in staying alive until the end and Hendricks, although still as wonderful as ever, is there then gone in a blink-and-you'll-miss-her role.
All the above makes it a good ol' thriller with not as many car chases as you would expect from the title and plot, but what you don't bargain for is the sometimes shocking violence that explodes upon the screen. From shotgun blasts to the head , through to a hammer and nail assault/threat to the forehead, Drive pulls no punches. The lift sequence involving a tender kiss suddenly goes all dark territory with a boot that crushes a skull into a bloody pulp as Mulligan, and the audience, watch dumb-foundedly.
A "ssen-it-somewhere-before" premise, shot with a nostalgic 80's feel and delivered by a cast that know how to draw you in, it's steady pace leaves you unready for the shocking act of violence that burst into your vision. You have been warned.
UK release date: 23.09.11