The scenes are exquisitely crafted, with the driver exhibiting stealth alongside raw speed when he gets behind the wheel. There's also the added contrast of a slowly burbling engine, idling moments before it unleashes the fury of contained horses: a befitting parallel.
Of course, the gradual falling for the characters couldn't work if they weren't believable, and that's to the credit of the actors. Gosling's performance as the driver who internalises emotions is precise, selling the character with the slightest of tells. Even though the character rarely talks his performance is never flat and the driver is always complete and intriguing.
Carey Mulligan as Irene exhibits graceful vulnerability, showcasing a frailty undermined by stern independence. The circumstances leaves this strong, independent mother weak, and it's a perfect balance that explains why the driver gravitates towards her: it's why the audience does too.
But the credit goes to director Nicolas Winding Refn who steers well away from the traps akin to many Hollywood films. Refn clearly cares about the story and concentrates on the reasons behind Driver's actions and not the actions themselves. From the very beginning of the film he warns audiences Drive is not going to be another Hollywood action flick, ushering in the narrative with pink credits.
Drive is an exceptional flick because it's not an action movie first: it's a good movie that occasionally induces suspense with realistic, believable action sequences. It gives the audience the credit they deserve, recognising they're intelligent and even though they never find out what the driver is running from, they enjoy what the movie drives towards.