I DON'T KNOW if you will love Drive like I do. It's a Frankensteined thing—part revenge flick, part western, part noir, part heist movie, part car commercial, part music video, part SWEET CHRIST I DID NOT EXPECT THAT SPLATTERED BIT OF BRUTAL ULTRA-VIOLENCE—and it comes from a man who's similarly tricky to define: Nicolas Winding Refn, the powerful, graceful Danish director behind Bronson and Valhalla Rising, and the same dude who's been lobbying to make a Wonder Woman movie starring Christina Hendricks, which, to me at least, sounds like the best idea anyone's ever had.
Sans star-spangled panties, Hendricks shows up in Drive, as do a slew of other solid-to-great actors: Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan, Bryan Cranston, Ron Perlman, Albert Brooks. Los Angeles deserves a spot on the cast list, too; vast and strange and hot, the sprawl gives its best performance since Michael Mann coolly fetishized it in Collateral and Heat.
Come to think of it, there's a lot of Mann in Drive, too: If Bronson felt Kubrick-y and Valhalla felt like Herzog on some extraordinarily bad acid, Refn's made Drive feel like one of Mann's movies—but harder edged, amped up, younger, angrier, meaner. I could spend more words trying to crack open this thing's DNA to see why Drive works on me like it does—there are at least a few nucleotides from Taxi Driver and Bullitt and the entirety of the '80s twisted up in there—but it's probably better to just accept the giddy, sexy high it offers. Each of Drive's parts slides slickly into my brain's receptors. There's one way to find out if it'll do the same thing to you, and I would recommend trying it.
Gosling's quiet, creepy character has a job instead of a name: A stuntman by day, he climbs into cars on movie sets, calmly flipping them on command. But at night—in leather gloves and a scorpion-embroidered windbreaker, a toothpick dangling from his too-pretty mouth—he puts his considerable skills to work as a getaway driver. Specific in his commands and sharp in his methods, he slices his car through Los Angeles' intersections and alleys until he meets his neighbor, Irene (Mulligan), and her adorable son, Benicio (Kaden Leos), and gets strung up in business that's entirely too dangerous for anyone. Part of it involves Irene's ex-con husband (Oscar Isaac), part of it involves terrifying crime boss Bernie (Brooks), and all of it involves cars: fast cars. Spinning cars. Cars idling and nervous. Cars blurring through a lethal, beautiful Los Angeles while Italo disco pops and Cliff Martinez's synth score thrums and everything clicks into place as it all goes to shit. It's gorgeous and sweet and vicious, and I dreaded the sight of the end credits.