DVD Release Date: January 31, 2012
Theatrical Release Date: September 16, 2011
Rating: R (for strong brutal bloody violence, language and some nudity)
Genre: Action, Crime, Drama
Run Time: 100 min.
Director: Nicolas Winding Refn
Actors: Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan, Bryan Cranston, Albert Brooks, Christina Hendricks, Ron Perlman, Oscar Isaac

From the neon pink cursive selected for the movie’s opening credits to its decidedly retro, synth-laden soundtrack, Drive is a sleek throwback to an entirely different era of action movie.

Unlike anything you’d see The Rock (Faster) or Jason Statham (The Mechanic) starring in these days, Drive’s protagonist is far less flashy. Like Clint Eastwood’s Man With No Name, Ryan Gosling (Crazy Stupid Love) is simply known as Driver, the strong, silent type who apparently understands the tremendous value in showing not telling.

Opting to say so much by saying so little (and trust me, dialogue is in particularly short supply throughout), Driver provides a meaningful glimpse of exactly who is in the film’s action-packed opening scene, and that’s a man who won’t let anything—or anyone—stand in the way of getting the job done.

A Hollywood stunt driver by day, a getaway car for armed robbers by night, Driver is a stoic, solitary man without the benefit of an elaborate backstory to fill in the blanks. Completing one dangerous task after the next with the utmost precision, Driver manages to fly under the radar because he doesn’t bother with those pesky emotional attachments.

One afternoon, however, we see that Driver’s heart isn’t entirely made of stone when he forges an unexpected friendship with a young mother named Irene (Carey Mulligan, Never Let Me Go) who lives a few doors down from him. Like Driver, trouble also seems to follow Irene wherever she goes. Pregnant and married before her 20th birthday, her husband’s currently doing time at the local prison.

In what’s particularly bad timing for Driver’s growing feelings for Irene, something these two actors do a surprisingly believable job of conveying in such a short time, her hubby’s time behind bars is almost done. Making the most of the connection they have in the meantime, Irene and Driver go for what else—a drive—and before long, you see that Driver is not only capable of meaningful conversation, but is someone who’d actually thrive in a loving relationship.

Unfortunately, Driver simply can’t escape the entanglements of a life of crime. When Irene’s husband is eventually targeted by thugs (turns out, he owes them some major cash), Driver offers to help him safely escape with the money from the pawn shop he plans to rob. See, as much as he loves Irene, he wants her to be happy and safe—even if it’s not with him. So he believes that helping her husband will be helping Irene.

But for the first time in Driver’s “career,” this seemingly straightforward operation goes very, very wrong in a hurry, and before long, this perpetually cool customer is in way over his head with the baddest of bad guys hot on his tail. Borrowing a page or two from Quentin Tarantino’s playbook, the violence that ensues not only happens when you’re least expecting it, but is needlessly bloody—and graphic—to boot. In fact, nervous laughter from the audience was pretty much par for the course as blood splattered in every direction.

Hardly what anyone would mistake for feel-good entertainment, the filmmakers do a fantastic job of gradually upping the stakes and suspense. But as thrilling of a ride as Drive can be, all the cool points in the world can’t erase its empty feeling.

If there’s any takeaway at all from this shameless attempt to wow the audience with thrilling car chases and one spectacularly gory death after the next, it’s that people’s bad life choices eventually catch up with them. While certainly a valuable message, it doesn’t exactly take watching a movie like this to figure out. If anything, Drive just feels like an opportunity for a likable actor like Gosling to broaden his repertoire, which is great for him, but doesn’t necessarily do much for the audience.