Is there any actor (or any person for that matter) in the entire world who could pull off the signature scorpion jacket from Drive other than Ryan Gosling? It's a testament to Gosling's prowess that he can turn something so inherently silly into something so inherently menacing. But then that's the case with a lot of Nicolas Winding Refn's film really: a lot of the elements don't necessarily fit when considered individually, but boy do they work when used together.

While Drive is concerned very much with quirky lighting and costume decisions, it often gets away with it because these odd-ball choices come together to make something incredibly distinct and iconic. At the time of release audiences hungrily ate up this eccentric style, and as a result there hasn't been a recent movie propelled to cult classic status as quickly as Nicolas Winding Refn's Drive. The neo-noir action thriller became instantly distinctive; everything from its amazing soundtrack to its beautifully orchestrated violence, and yes, even its taste in obnoxious jackets cemented Drive as one of the most arresting pieces of cinema released in 2011.

More than anything, Drive signalled the return to stylish, '80s inspired, visually different action films. As well as revitalizing a stale genre, Refn's picture is so revered because of how much it refused to look and feel like a regular action film – even though at heart that's kind of all it was. An intensely atmospheric moody L.A and an instantly infectious soundtrack propelled the gorgeously choreographed action into art-house territory largely forgotten by the mainstream. The incredibly vibrant yet harrowing depiction of Los Angeles drops much of the cinematic pretence usually adopted by dark crime flicks. There's nothing romantic about Drive's LA: it's seedy and grungy and violent, but damn – it's also kind of engrossing.

Stealing a retro '80s-inspired trashy aesthetic, Drive's seedy criminal underbelly looks suitably menacing. Bursts of extreme action flash against an otherwise subdued and soft pallet that contrasts just enough to make your jaw hit the floor. The action scenes come few and far between, but when they arrive they kick down the door in bombastic fashion. The atmospheric tension spikes, as explosions of red gore overpower the otherwise orange and blue cinematography. Drive flows between moments of action and quiet like a really good piece of music. It knows when to really go for it full-steam and it knows when to dial it back a bit – and it's so confident in both approaches that it never falters even once in its run-time.

Opting to weave a story through visuals rather than dialogue, Drive flows from scene to scene with hypnotic grace. Though the film could have easily fallen apart, as the narrative wouldn't hold nearly the same resonance if every shot wasn't as captivating as it is. A brutal action beat that has Gosling kicking a man's head in, literally, and a swooping romantic fly-by of a family enjoying a memorable drive through empty LA canals are both handled with the same poetic touch. Drive moves from one scene to the next in such a natural and organic way that you forget that there was only two words of dialogue spoken in the last 10 minutes. Refn's outstanding imagery, but also his keen sense of pacing and editing makes Drive a completely engrossing experience from beginning to end.

But Refn's biggest strength has always been the way he plays with lighting in his movies. Unafraid to tamper with experimental illumination, Drive features some of the most striking contrasts in recent years. Take the iconic elevator kiss scene - this small sequence has absolutely loads going on with its lighting manipulation. For instance, the closer the characters get to each other and the longer the kiss goes on, the darker the lighting gets to the point where it's only the two of them back-lit in the shot, before returning to a bright display once the violence breaks out. On first watch you don't even notice it. Something that looks as negligible on paper as turning the lights up and and down does wonders to create a powerful and memorable scene when it comes together on-screen.

If you ever get a chance to see Drive in the cinema then you absolutely have to. Even if you only have a passing interest in film, then catching Drive on the big screen might just be enough to make you fall in love with it. While perhaps not an obvious choice for a defining cinematic experience (something like 2001 A Space Odyssey might take that spot), Drive is such a joy to watch from beginning to end, and every element from the music to the images complement each other so well that the film is something you can't really write about – you just have to experience it. Drive made action movies cool again, and it did it while wearing the dorkiest jacket it could find.