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4.5 Star Rating: Recommended

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Review: Drive Is Mercifully Unlike Any Action Movie Before It

By Tony Ibrahim | Tuesday | 01/11/2011

Drive focusses on a Driver with no name, no back story and little in the way of personality. By day he's a Hollywood stuntman, and by night he doubles as the getaway driver for criminals. At the beginning of the film he's quiet, contained and a bit of a loner.

The stoic character meets Benicio, his neighbour's colourful little boy. It's the first time in the movie we see the inanimate driver let a smile slip through a demeanour that is otherwise impervious. The second time is when he befriends Benicio's mother, Irene.

They slowly spend some time together but the release of Benicio's father, Standard, from jail puts a halt on any romance. Standard asserts his presence and the Driver poses no romantic risk, but still makes appearances after forging a friendship with the little boy. 

Even though Standard is a reformed crook, old criminal friends force him to commit one last crime. Realising Irene and Benicio's safety is at stake, the driver offers to help, but when the heist goes bad he's drawn into a world of underbelly thugs and street law.

The driver exacts the form of violent justice only an anti-hero could, but it stems from such a good-natured place—the love he has for a neighbouring family—that it's hard to see him as a villain. After all, the film appeals to anyone in the audience, posing the question: how far would you go to protect someone you love?

Since the driver slowly reveals his character the audience begins to naturally care about him. They care about Irene, the adorable Benicio and even his reformed father. The affection towards these characters endows the action sequences with suspense and that special ingredient that causes viewers to sit on the very edge of their popcorn-stained seats.

The scenes are exquisitely crafted, with the driver exhibiting stealth alongside raw speed when he gets behind the wheel. There's also the added contrast of a slowly burbling engine, idling moments before it unleashes the fury of contained horses: a befitting parallel.

Of course, the gradual falling for the characters couldn't work if they weren't believable, and that's to the credit of the actors. Gosling's performance as the driver who internalises emotions is precise, selling the character with the slightest of tells. Even though the character rarely talks his performance is never flat and the driver is always complete and intriguing.

Carey Mulligan as Irene exhibits graceful vulnerability, showcasing a frailty undermined by stern independence. The circumstances leaves this strong, independent mother weak, and it's a perfect balance that explains why the driver gravitates towards her: it's why the audience does too.

But the credit goes to director Nicolas Winding Refn who steers well away from the traps akin to many Hollywood films. Refn clearly cares about the story and concentrates on the reasons behind Driver's actions and not the actions themselves. From the very beginning of the film he warns audiences Drive is not going to be another Hollywood action flick, ushering in the narrative with pink credits.

Drive is an exceptional flick because it's not an action movie first: it's a good movie that occasionally induces suspense with realistic, believable action sequences. It gives the audience the credit they deserve, recognising they're intelligent and even though they never find out what the driver is running from, they enjoy what the movie drives towards. 

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Reviewed by Tony Ibrahim Rating: 4.5