From the pink, cursive typeface and pulsing, instrumental music of the opening credits, audience members will feel as if something is out of place, as if the movie is just a bit “off.” That’s because director Nicolas Winding Refn (“Bronson”) has immersed this tale in the style of Michael Mann’s “Thief,” rather than today’s “Transporter” series. The thrills come not in short, orgasmic bursts à la “Fast Five,” but slow, sustained tension, strung piano wire-tight. It’s the year’s best film and a new crime classic.
Opening Friday, “Drive” is more exciting and engrossing than any of them. Hollywood stunt double by day, the unnamed protagonist (Ryan Gosling, “Crazy, Stupid, Love.”) is a hired wheelman by night. With no questions asked, he’ll be your getaway car driver, waiting outside for five full minutes, no matter what happens. One way or another, he lives his life through a windshield, and it’s not until his miserable personal life starts showing promise that his professional one grows potentially fatal. Worse, the two inevitably intersect.
The Cannes Film Festival doesn’t give out its Best Director award to just old Italian guys whose films play like bleak metaphors, and Refn hammers this one with pinpoint perfection as sharp as Gosling’s ever-present toothpick. There’s far more to this excellent story than its trailer hints at — namely, projecting genuine menace. The scorpion adorning the back of Gosling’s jacket isn’t for show; the guy speaks little, but says so much when violence erupts.
And that it does. If you can take it, by God, see it!