If you want to blend into California traffic, drive a Chevy Impala.
If you want to stand out amid the torrent of new movies, hire Ryan Gosling. That is what director Nicolas Winding Refn did in converting James Sallis' 2005 neo-noir novel "Drive" into a movie of the same name.
In almost every case, the director goes for the unusual -- casting Mr. Gosling as a stunt driver who moonlights as a wheelman, Carey Mulligan as the wife of a convict and mother of a young son, Bryan Cranston as a mechanic, and Ron Perlman and Albert Brooks as criminals, one hot-tempered and one cool-headed but both ruthless.
Rating: R for strong bloody brutal violence, language and some nudity.
"Drive" is about a loner and LA transplant known simply as Driver (Mr. Gosling) who splits his time between working as a movie stuntman -- he can roll a car and walk away without a scratch -- and a getaway driver for criminals. He doesn't carry a gun or participate in the heists. He just drives.
Sometimes that means obeying the traffic laws, sometimes that means eluding the cops stalking his car on surface streets or from the air. That's how the movie opens, with Driver at the wheel, a couple of burglars in the backseat and only the sound of the police scanner and a sports radio station.
In most movies you might expect a chaotic jumble of nervous, profanity-laced chatter, but here the occupants of the car never speak a word, and it cranks up the tension as police and prey play a cat-and-mouse game.
From the first seconds when you hear Driver spelling out his rules about how the client owns him for a five-minute window, you know something will go wrong.
When it does go wrong, the driver is forced to violate his rules about participating in the sort of violence that usually happens outside the confines of his car or is staged for the screen.
"Drive" is about deception, double-crosses and how no good deed goes unpunished. Already on the wrong side of the law by sitting behind the wheel, the getaway driver will be pushed over the edge like a race car slammed into the wall.
Mr. Gosling, with the face of an overgrown choir boy and a voice lacking natural malice, explodes as if flooring the pedal as he slaps a woman for withholding information and kicks and stomps a man until you hear bones crack.
The Danish-born Mr. Refn, named best director at the Cannes Film Festival for this film, is no stranger to action or violence. Among his movies is 2009's "Bronson," featuring Tom Hardy ("Warrior," "The Dark Knight Rises") as Britain's most famous prisoner.
In adapting the 158-page book, screenwriter Hossein Amini eliminates the small glimpse into the unnamed protagonist's past and changes the fates of a couple of key characters. Irina, a raven-haired Latina in the book, turns into Irene, played by Ms. Mulligan with a blond pixie cut, while Oscar Isaac is her husband.
Although the violence grows brutal and bloody, the pleasure comes in the look at unpredictable life on the far fringe of Hollywood, the choice of music such as "Under Your Spell" by Desire and "Oh My Love" by Riz Ortolani featuring Katyna Ranieri, and the unlikely casting.
Mr. Brooks portrays a one-time producer of 1980s action flicks who, for business reasons, insists on meeting the driver. The wheelman apologizes for not immediately shaking hands by saying, "My hands are a little dirty," and Mr. Brooks' Bernie Rose responds, "So are mine."