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'Drive' is a Wild Ride

Ryan Gosling stars in raw, intense film noir

As the pre-Oscar season revs up, the movie heavy weights are coming out. One is the film noir “Drive,” directed by Nicolas Winding Refn. A raw and esoteric action drama, “Drive” offers intense visuals and an excellent cast.

The Danish filmmaker won best director for "Drive" at the Cannes Film Festival in May. The camera tells the story through fleeting glances, long close ups and violent bursts of action. The dialogue is lean.

"And so when we went into the film, I asked the director if he was O.K. if we just take out anything that was unnecessary in terms of dialogue," says Ryan Gosling, who stars in the film. "And when we started going through it, we realized that there really wasn't much that was necessary and that you could maybe tell a story more effectively without dialogue."

Tension is in high gear during the opening getaway scene. The driver is calm as he maneuvers his silver Impala on the streets of L.A. Suddenly, he bursts into action, evading police. After experiencing these five intoxicating minutes before the opening credits, we know the two-hour ride will be worth it.

We know nothing about the driver’s past. He is taciturn but reliable and skilled behind the wheel. Apart from his getaways, he works as a stuntman in Hollywood and a garage mechanic. He is amoral until he falls in love with Irene, played by Carey Mulligan.

Irene is married to a convict. When he gets out of prison, he’s forced to do a robbery.

If he refuses, his family will die, so the driver offers to help him out. But things go wrong. Irene’s husband has been set up by the mafia and is murdered. The driver is left with $1 million in a bag and mobsters on his trail.

The film recalls action dramas of the 1980s and superhero comics.

The driver becomes the avenger. He's a noble hero who is introspective and sweet but can turn deadly. At times, to advance the story, Refn goes surreal.

"It's like a fairy tale structure, you know," Refn says. "It slowly builds up the momentum and then the knight has to slay the dragon or kill the witch or the evil this or the evil that."

Gosling offers a textured performance as the Driver, showing his versatility in what is already a promising career.

"Drive" has all the elements of a cult film: strong characters, depth, great cinematography and breathtaking chases. Some may not like the violence but, like in Quentin Tarantino’s signature films, it's integral to the story.