Cannes: ‘Drive’ review

May 27, 2011, 12:35 a.m.

This summer, when all of the big, action-packed movies are released, don’t be the one to miss “Drive” for the biggest adrenaline rush all year. It might seem like the indie-film version of “The Fast and the Furious,” and maybe it is, but the payoff is just so much greater. The action bites harder, the romance is more sincere and the car chases are top gear.

Ryan Gosling is the hero in this “modern fairy tale,” playing a professional stunt driver by day and a criminal getaway driver by night. We first meet him on a job — the fun kind. He doesn’t talk much, sets strict rules and promises success to his clients. His first mission here is one of the most harrowing car chases put to screen in recent movies, and it’s only the first one.

There’s also some romance to this fairy tale. Carey Mulligan plays Irene, a young mother with a husband in jail who happens to be next-door neighbors with Gosling’s nameless driver. Their romance happens quickly, quietly and sincerely. However, the romantic moments don’t last long. The driver tosses his hat into the ring for another job, and things don’t go as planned. He soon becomes entangled in a deeper crime ring as a bounty is placed on his head. This is where things get violent. Director Nicolas Winding Refn has been a master of gore, and he doesn’t hold back. Nothing is ever unnecessary, but it certainly is never polite or subtle. The action comes in quick, unadulterated bursts that could remind the viewer of Scorsese’s early cathartic violence.

Gosling and Mulligan have never turned in less than perfect performances, and “Drive” is no exception. They both create incredibly charming and complex characters with very little dialogue. The supporting cast is equally great. Bryan Cranston (Walter White from “Breaking Bad” to hipsters and the dad from “Malcolm in the Middle” to plebeians) plays Gosling’s boss, a man who harbors some dark secrets of his own. Christina Hendricks, from “Mad Men,” has her moment as one of the criminals Gosling has to drive. Perhaps the most surprising performance is comedian Albert Brooks as a shady mob character. He brings a well-mannered menace and elevates a small role into something brilliant.

The action is slick and the car chases slicker, but there is a certain grit that coats this whole movie in an ‘80s-throwback light. The soundtrack is equally important in creating this homage, and at times it almost feels like a John Hughes movie. “Drive” is going to be one of the biggest events of the summer, and it’s not to be missed, even if you have to cover your eyes a little during the elevator scene. You’ve been warned.

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