Action and smarts don't necessarily go hand-in-hand. But director Nicolas Winding Refn ("Bronson") deftly blends them here in "Drive," a phenomenally entertaining movie that employs a haunting soundtrack, clever direction and entertaining characters to create one of the best movies of the year. You never will know what's going to happen, and that's another factor that makes this actioner drama compelling.

Ryan Gosling plays the nameless Driver, who works at a garage, is a well-respected stunt-car driver and also provides getaway means for mobsters. The first scene is a getaway sequence in which Driver cleverly eludes law enforcement, all the while listening to a police scanner.

Driver doesn't say much. In fact, this character probably has fewer lines than any other character in the movie. Still, Gosling is such a great actor that you often can tell what he's thinking with a shift of his gaze.

Driver is about to take on a new line of work. His boss Shannon (Bryan Cranston, television's "Breaking Bad") has asked mob bosses Bernie (Albert Brooks) and Nino (Ron Perlman, "Hellboy") for money to buy a race car for Driver to enter competitions.

Meanwhile, Driver helps out his neighbor Irene (Carey Mulligan, "An Education"), who lives a couple of doors down with her little boy. Driver begins to befriend both of them, and then everything changes when Irene's husband is released from jail ... but not from his "services" to a gang of thugs. Driver realizes that the comfortable fragile relationship he has formed with Irene and her son is over in an instant.

Driver is enigmatic, but that doesn't make him any less likeable. We don't know his back story, but that really doesn't matter. He's a man who lives in the present, so it doesn't matter where he came from or where he's going.

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This is a show with plenty of action and blood-chilling violence. Not surprisingly, car chases abound. But it's more than an actioner, with everyday characters who are believable.

Adding to its tone and pace is a soundtrack that's a star in its own right, from "A Real Hero" by College, featuring Electric Youth, to music by Cliff Martinez. "A Real Hero" is likely to be going through your head as you leave the theater - it's one of the best cuts from any soundtrack this year.

This film simply is excellent, all the way around.