IN Drive (Cert 18) Ryan Gosling plays a mechanic and part-time Hollywood stunt driver who moonlights as a getaway driver for the Los Angeles underworld.
He’s a loner and a man of few words until he becomes involved with a woman which leads him – for honourable motives – to take part in a robbery which goes horribly wrong and he becomes a marked man.
If this suggests a car chase action adventure, think again. This is a slow-burning character-driven film noir. But wait, there are a couple of terrific car chases in Drive and on reflection what Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn seems to have achieved is something that should please multiplex action fans and the arthouse crowd.
Or to put it another way, it continually surprises your expectations.
It opens with a pre-credit sequence in which our hero, simply known as Driver, impresses us with his cool grace under pressure as he burns the rubber and cunningly evades the cops. There’s something of the Steve McQueen about the character chewing on his toothpick and sporting a bomber jacket with a scorpion emblem (which becomes increasingly bloodied as it goes on) or perhaps Clint Eastwood because he’s Man with No Name and very little backstory.
Then the film changes gear when Driver meets Irene (Carey Mulligan), a waitress living with her young son next door in his apartment building. All three begin hanging out together, but if we’re braced for romance it’s one mostly of unspoken gestures. Little is said between them, or indeed done, which is just as well because it turns out Irene has a husband who is just about to come out of jail.
When Standard (Oscar Isaacs) appears he is not the bad ‘un you might expect, though he is understandably wary of his wife’s new “friend”. But he’s run up debts in prison and is being blackmailed into robbing a jewellery store to save his family from harm. The Driver nobly volunteers to provide the wheels but the heist proves a set-up and ends in catastrophe.
Drive is a film which is utterly absorbing as it roars along to a pulsating soundtrack punctuated by bouts of sudden violence. Gosling makes a creditable existential hero and among the support is Christina Hendricks (Mad Men’s Joan in a regrettably brief cameo) and Albert Brooks playing against type as a deceptively genial gangster.
Two brothers go head to head in Warrior (Cert 12A), Gavin O’Connor’s brutal story of redemption and self-loathing, a kind of martial arts variation on last year’s boxing drama, The Fighter.
One is Tommy, played by Tom Hardy (bulked up and tattooed and looking very different from his appearance in Tinker, Tailor) who returns unexpectedly to his home town after 14 years and surprises his estranged father (Nick Nolte) to train him for Sparta, a televised mixed martial arts fighting competition..
The other brother, Brendan (Joel Edgerton), a family man and schoolteacher with acute financial problems, has set his entire future on winning Sparta and its lucrative purse, putting him on a collision course with his sibling. The story is predictable but the fight action is convincing.