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First Night: Drive, Cannes Film Festival

High-octane thriller is the most stylish film in years

Without doubt the most stylish film in years, Drive plays like the best episodes of Miami Vice.

Many early scenes play as montages with no dialogue and music blaring. It's a story told through album cover images rather than conversation.

Directed by Nicholas Winding Refn and set in Los Angeles, it's an atmospheric portrayal of a movie stunt driver who uses his prowess behind the wheel to drive getaway cars. So good is he that his friend and mentor Shannon (Bryan Cranston) wants to build a stock car racing team around him and gets start-up funds from a couple of gangsters, Bernie Rose (Albert Brooks) and Nino (Ron Perlman).

At its heart is a lead performance of some magnitude from Ryan Gosling. Hardly ever speaking, he portrays a range of emotions with the flick of an eyebrow or a half-smile. It's intriguing that the two best male performances of the festival, Gosling and Jean Dujardin, star of The Artist, are both largely silent.

When on the job, the nameless stuntman is the doyen of cool, a kindred spirit of Clint Eastwood, a toothpick is his cigarillo and a car his horse. Keeping to the archetype, nothing is revealed about his back story, nor why he's such a precise killer when things start to go wrong.

Gosling has the ice-cold cool of Paul Newman as he drives intelligently, rather than spectacularly or at full throttle away from robberies.

The opening sequence is as good as the famous car sequence in Bullitt as Gosling gives his clients a five-minute window to complete their heist. His world of allusive detachment begins to unravel when he meets his neighbour Irene (Carey Mulligan). Mulligan has an ethereal quality and the lack of dialogue plays to her ability to show internal emotion.

A friendship develops as he drives the waitress and her young son to work and around town. However, the bliss ends when Irene's husband Standard (Oscar Isaac) is released from jail, and to save her, our anti-hero takes on a risky job.

The action and characters are purposely cold so those seeking an adrenaline rush will be disappointed, but the visuals, sound, costumes, and acting are outstanding.