Drive stars Ryan Gosling as a Hollywood stunt driver and mechanic who also happens to be a getaway driver. The solitary Driver whose name we never learn is a loner with no friends or family except for his beaten down employer, Shannon (Bryan Cranston) who owns the garage where he works and is also the stunt coordinator who hires him to work in movies.

Driver is a man of few words preferring to let others do the talking while he reveals nothing. Gosling is magnetic as a man who possesses a calm demeanor on the surface but harbors a tightly coiled animal instinct to survive and an explosive propensity for violence when necessary.

Nicolas Winding Refn the director has a firm grasp of his material. There’s a consistent tone to the film from beginning to end. His is not the bright candy colored Los Angeles seen in so many other films. Instead, the Danish director perfectly captures the sprawling and alienating landscape of LA that often serves as a barrier between people.  The empty desolate streets at night and the strip mall restaurants and markets that give the city an eerie, disconnected feel.

In spite of his apparent detachment from all things, Driver develops a connection to his neighbor Irene (Carey Mulligan) a young woman whose husband is in prison and is raising their son on her own. Mulligan is a mix of strength and vulnerability as the unavailable wife and mother protective of her son yet attracted to her mysterious neighbor.

The story takes a fateful turn when Shannon proposes that an old acquaintance involved in organized crime, Bernie Rose (Albert Brooks) invest in a stock car with Driver as the wheelman. To further complicate matters, Irene’s husband Standard (Oscar Isaac) is released from prison only to learn his debt to society may have been paid but the debt he owes on the street is still due.

In a movie where every performance is spot on, Albert Brooks still manages to stand out. I have newfound respect for Brooks who infuses Bernie with a sense of practical brutality tinged with humanity, regret, sadness and an ultimately existential sense of survival.

The white satin scorpion jacket Driver wears throughout most of the story is an integral part of the character and the atmosphere. The jacket comes to represent Driver as the danger around him escalates and his situation devolves. As the stakes are raised, the jacket takes on yet another layer of adversity and wear.

is a dark, moody thriller that looks at the sleazy underworld of LA and the people who inhabit that grim reality. Essential to the mood is the soundtrack and score, which fit the tone of the film as well as Gosling’s sleek leather driving gloves mold to his hands. The music envelops the film like a second skin. Like the aptly titled song in the movie “Under Your Spell” Drive will entrance you from the first frame to the last.

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