Highly stylized, compelling and startlingly violent, Drive is a thinking person’s action flick.

The always intriguing Ryan Gosling knows how to pick them. He has starred in just about every genre of film, but with a penchant to provide a certain independent film experience, Gosling seems to seek out the genre film that strays off the path a bit. For example, this summer he did his first romantic comedy Crazy, Stupid Love, which definitely wasn’t your ordinary rom-com — and now with Drive he is tackling the gritty action film in a unique way.

Gosling plays a part-time mechanic, part-time Hollywood stunt driver, who also moonlights as a wheel man for odd heist jobs. In typical fashion, he has rules – no names, doesn’t carry a gun, gives those he’s transporting only five minutes to do their job or he’s out, get in and get out, stuff like that. He’s a loner but has some affection for his so-called boss Shannon (Bryan Cranston), who arranges all his jobs for him. In fact, Shannon has set up a deal with a former film producer, now mob-connected heavy named Bernie (Albert Brooks) and his partner Nino (Ron Perlman) to have Driver race a stock car and make them a lot of money in the circuit. Bernie and Nino are not a nice guys, by the way.  Things start to change for Driver when he meets his neighbor Irene (Carey Mulligan) and her young son. He begins to open himself up for the first time and in no time, Driver starts to fall for Irene. His usually crystal clear judgment becomes clouded by his desire to keep her safe. Suffice to say, he gets too involved and ends up being part of a heist that goes terribly wrong, which puts himself and Irene in jeopardy. It then becomes a race against time, as Driver tries to get rid of all the obstacles for a clean getaway. Violently tries, I should say.

Now while Driver may sound like something you’ve seen before, trust me, you haven’t. Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn paints the film noir as noir can be, while also infusing it with visually stunning and stylized effects. Refn obviously loves slow motion action, but rather than use it sparingly, more like a crutch, he uses it all the time – and it works. There’s a heartbreaking scene in an elevator when Driver slowly and passionately kisses Irene right before something really bad happens, and it’s a truly beautiful moment. And even the crazy violence in slow motion isn’t gratuitous – and there’s a bunch of bloody fights.

Of course, having such a strong cast also helps Driver rise above. Gosling has had a hell of a year in films with this, Crazy, Stupid Love and the upcoming George Clooney political drama The Ides of March. Not sure if Ides or Driver will be his ticket into the Oscars, but I’m betting Gosling is going to be on a list. Mulligan turns in another great performance as the fragile Irene. She and Driver don’t say a whole lot to each other, but the attraction is palpable. You can just see her breathing rapidly when she’s around him. As for the others, Cranston and Perlman do a nice job playing the opposite of each other; Cranston’s the nervous, jittery type while Perlman blows hard. Christina Hendricks makes a brief appearance as a heist accomplice but doesn’t do too much. It is Brooks who particularly stands out as the malevolent Bernie. It’s a great twist to the nebbish-y characters he’s always played, and it’s clear he relished playing the bad guy.

Really, you simply have to experience Driver for yourself. Let it wash over you in a way. You won’t be disappointed (I hope).