As a follow up to the underrated Valhalla Rising, Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn has stepped up his game with the Ryan Gosling vehicle (no pun intended) Drive, earning himself a Best Director award at Cannes and solid reviews from critics and viewers alike. The impressive thriller benefits from taut action and tight performances by Gosling, Carey Mulligan, Christina Hendricks (of “Mad Men”), Ron Perlman and Albert Brooks. And serving as a fitting backdrop to the action and drama is the powerful score by frequent Steven Soderbergh collaborator Cliff Martinez (Schizopolis, The Limey, Traffic, and more recently Contagion and The Lincoln Lawyer).

Like The Lincoln Lawyer (another action-infused drama) Drive features the Kavinsky & Lovefoxxx tune “Nightcall.” It’s a creepily sexy machine-like tune that I like on its own but I have to admit fits better with the Drive vibe than it does with The Lincoln Lawyer. Maybe it’s just a coincidence, or maybe Martinez’ style just seems to go well with this robotic love song. Either way this is the best of the five opening non-score tracks. “Under your Spell” by Desire, “A Real Hero” by College, and “Oh My Love” by Riz Ortolani (especially “Oh My Love”) feel a bit out of place on this collection, while “Tick of the Clock” by The Chromatics is a nice beat-driven lyric-less track that flows effortlessly into Martinez’ “Rubber Head” – the first composition and a track that borrows a few rhythms from “Tick of the Clock” before setting out on its own and fading quietly into “I Drive.” “I Drive” and “He Had a Good Time” seem to be the meditative heart of the album, setting up a peaceful world of focus and relaxation that leaves the audience unprepared for the action that is to come, in much the same way that Gosling’s character (Driver) is unprepared for the action. They’re beautiful pieces together, all the more so because they don’t foreshadow the action to come. It’s not until the end of the next track – “They Broke His Pelvis” – that Martinez gives us a hint (towards the end, along with a few discordant notes in the beginning) of the violence that is to come.

From this moment on, starting with “Kick Your Teeth,” Martinez creates a lush but subtle world – full of quiet menace and slightly muted danger. It’s this understating of the action that gives this score its power. Rather than grabbing you by the throat, Martinez sneaks up on you with eerie atmosphere and gently trilling keyboards (making clangy moments like the opening of “After the Chase” or the ending of “Hammer”) all the more effective. There’s a constant sense of controlled desperation throughout the score, with the trebles sometimes hitting so high they become distorted. This effect isn’t for everyone but I have to admit that I enjoyed it. So far Martinez has made a career mainly with Soderbergh, which isn’t a bad way to make a career, but Drive (along with The Lincoln Lawyer) may be the beginning of his branching out to other filmmakers. Let’s hope so, as his scores are consistently impressive.

Overall Score: A-

To purchase the soundtrack for Drive, visit Amazon

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