I went to the San Diego Comic Con excited to see footage for Ridley Scott’s Prometheus, The Amazing Spiderman and Fright Night. Little did I know that the movie that would make the biggest impact on me would be one I hadn’t even heard of going into the event. Thankfully, though, a decent panel complete with a rave recommendation from an incredibly enthusiastic Guillermo Del Toro convinced my buddies and I to go check out the free sneak preview screening of Drive…and it’s easily the best movie I’ve seen all year.

Ryan Gosling stars as a stunt-driver with a successful side career as an underworld wheel man. He’s not a bad guy, really…he’s just doing what he knows, and and what his kindly boss (excellently played by Bryan Cranston) needs. Things change when Gosling falls for who he believes to be a single mother (Carey Mulligan) living in the apartment next to his. Unfortunately, it turns out she is very much married, and her husband is just about to get out of prison. Once out, the husband’s old associates try to force him to do another job, even though he is trying to keep clean. When they threaten Mulligan and her young son, Gosling steps in, offering to do the job for them as long as they promise to leave the family alone. Things (not surprisingly) go bad, and Gosling soon finds himself in a fight for survival against two ruthless gangsters played by Ron Perlman and Albert Brooks…yes, THAT Albert Brooks.

Like my previous favorite movie of the year, Hanna, Drive has a pretty simplistic story that runs this close to being predictable, but is constantly elevated by the incredible directorial choices at every turn. Although I haven’t seen his Pusher trilogy, I was familiar with Nicolas Winding Refn from his work on Bronson (an amazing film that everyone MUST see) and Valhalla Rising (which I thought was visually incredible, but never really grabbed me beyond that). Here, he takes the trappings of a ’70s-era exploitation flick and turns it into high art. Drive is at times lyrical, at times shockingly violent, at times beautiful, and at times moving. It is a samurai film disguised as a neo-noir revenge tale. It is arthouse and grindhouse melted together. It is all of these things, and yet never feels inconsistent or scattered. THIS is how you make a mainstream action film that still feels like it means something, and it doesn’t surprise me at all that Refn won Best Director at this year’s Cannes Film Festival for his work here.

Every piece of this movie is perfect, from the awesome score, to the short bursts of intense action, and especially the excellent performances of all involved. I’ve liked Gosling for quite awhile, but didn’t know he had it in him to be such a bad-ass. Meanwhile, Mulligan, Perlman, Cranston and Christina Hendricks all give memorable performances, but it’s Albert Brooks that people will be talking about. Watching the comedic legend perfectly inhabit this scary character is perhaps the movie’s most pleasant surprise – I really hope he gets some love when awards season rolls around.

I can’t say it enough – when this movie finally hits theaters, see it. Please. I’m definitely going to pay to see it again. Quite simply, we need movies like this to be hits, so that we can get more movies like this. Refn and Gosling are about to collaborate again on a Logan’s Run remake. After seeing Drive, I’m definitely on board for that one. As of right now, Drive is my #1 film of the year, and the rest of the year’s movies are gonna have a hard time knocking it from that perch.

 

 

This review was originally posted at Trevor Likes Movies on July 29th, 2011.

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