FILM REVIEW: Drive (18)

Silence is golden.

For the opening 10 minutes of Nicolas Winding Refn’s nail-biting thriller, the lead character - a Hollywood stunt man who moonlights as a getaway driver - says nothing.

He lets his skills behind the wheel do the talking, accelerating smartly through the streets and alleyways of Los Angeles as police cars and a helicopter give chase.

Cliff Martinez’s insistent orchestral score merges with the heavy breathing of two robbers in the back of the car as Refn’s camera nervously surveys the streets, waiting for the coast to clear.

The tension is agonising... then rubber burns, the engine revs and we hold on tight.

For the next 90 minutes, we don’t let go.

Driver (Ryan Gosling) performs death-defying stunts in big-budget films but when he’s not on a set, he works as a mechanic for his good friend, Shannon (Bryan Cranston).

“You look like a zombie, kid. Are you getting any sleep?” asks the garage owner.

Driver shrugs off his obvious exhaustion, tinkering beneath the bonnet of a customer’s car.

When he’s not working in the shop, Driver performs illegal jobs organised by Shannon, which invariably involve high-speed getaways from crime scenes.

There are romantic complications when Driver falls for pretty mother Irene (Carey Mulligan), whose husband Standard Gabriel (Oscar Isaac) has just been released from prison and wants to rebuild bridges with his little boy, Benicio (Kaden Leos).

Unfortunately, Standard owes prison protection money from his time behind bars to hoodlum Cook (James Biberi), who will hurt Irene and Benicio if the cash is not forthcoming.

So Standard plots to rob a pawn shop to settle the debt aided by Cook’s associate Blanche (Christina Hendricks).

Driver agrees to sit behind the wheel of the getaway vehicle but the heist goes wrong, marking Driver for death at the hands of hoodlums Bernie Rose (Albert Brooks) and Nino (Ron Perlman).

Adapted from the novel by James Sallis, Drive is an adrenaline-fuelled journey into the blackened heart of a man living on the fringes of society.

Refn hits the accelerator in the opening scenes and barely touches the brakes as the plot skids with sickening inevitability towards its bloody resolution.

The Danish director punctuates Driver and Irene’s doomed romance with scenes of graphic violence including an assault in a lift that will test the strongest stomachs.

Gosling is mesmerising as the speed freak loner, catalysing smouldering screen chemistry with Mulligan, who can barely hold back the tears as Driver confesses, “Getting to be around you and Benicio was the best thing that ever happened to me.”

Brooks and Perlman are terrifying as mobsters, who smile at a rival then stab him in the throat, whispering tenderly, “Don’t worry, there’s no pain. It’s over.”

Double-cross them at your peril.

By Damon Smith

:: SWEARING :: NO SEX :: VIOLENCE :: RATING: 8/10

Released: September 23 (UK & Ireland), 100 mins