The main player is a character simply known as Driver. That's not his name, it's his occupation. Driver works for a garage owner, Shannon (played by Bryan Cranston), who dreams of being a successful race car owner. In order to finance his dreams, Shannon turns to local mobsters Bernie Rose (Albert Brooks) and Nino (Ron Perlman), with Driver's skill behind the wheel selling them on the investment.
Driver not only fixes cars for Shannon, he also works with him handling dangerous car stunts on movie sets. Also, for reasons left up to the viewer's imagination, he moonlights as a getaway driver for criminals. He lives in a tiny, barely furnished apartment and has no noticeable vices, so why he needs to earn extra cash apparently has nothing to do with the fact he's financially strapped. Interesting...
Driver doesn't want to know anything about the criminals he's working for, nor does he want to know any of the particulars about the actual crime being committed. He's hired to do one job and one job only: get his client away from the scene of the crime as quickly as possible without being detained by the police. He'll show up on time and deliver his clients to their ultimate destination, but he wants no discussion whatsoever about anything other than where Point A and Point B are. He's calm, cool, and collected to the extreme, even with a police helicopter's spotlight just feet from where his car is tucked away.
His disengagement from others isn't reserved only for getaway jobs. Driver simply doesn't talk unless it's absolutely necessary. However, his shell partially crumbles when he meets his helpless neighbor, Irene (Carey Mulligan), a woman who all but screams out for a champion to come to her rescue. And that's why Driver finally feels a connection to a stranger - he is a hero in waiting, at least in his own mind.
Irene has a husband in jail and a young son who could use a male influence in his life, and Driver - acting out of character - becomes involved in their small family unit. Unfortunately, Irene's husband (Oscar Isaac) gets paroled early and his reappearance sets into motion a chain of bloody, violent events that earn the film its hard R rating.
With Ryan Gosling, Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn chose the perfect actor to portray this tightly coiled, possibly unbalanced loner who's a genius at fixing car engines and a man who becomes one with a machine when he gets behind the wheel. Driver's a guy who does what needs to be done, and he's unapologetic about any of the consequences. As Driver, Gosling sets his face to give absolutely nothing away. From minute one through the credits, we are denied entry behind the mask. Even when we think we're seeing the true man, it turns out that's just an illusion put forth by a very skillful player. Even the simple act of walking through a parking lot wearing a blood-stained jacket becomes something almost too big to take in. Gosling always delivers, but with Drive he's been pushed and squeezed and prodded into taking on a form completely alien to anything he's done before.
The Bottom Line:
Gosling channels his inner action hero, transforming into a crazed, caged tiger at one point when stuck in an elevator with one of the bad guys. Refn absolutely doesn't skimp on the gore or pull back on the violence, and instead puts the pedal to the metal to deliver some gut-wrenching, gut-spattering action in Drive. The further into the film it gets, the more over-the-top the violence becomes.
Drive's a dark, violent fairy tale filled with psychologically damaged characters, with Driver first in line in the damaged category. Gosling summed up Drive well when he described the film as "a violent John Hughes movie meets a guy who’s confusing his own life for a movie." Driver exists in his own imaginary world, and when he dips his toes in the real one, bad things can - and do - happen.
Director Refn and screenwriter Hossein Amini cut the extraneous dialogue and just let Gosling be Driver. Surrounded by an outstanding cast of supporting players (Mulligan, Perlman, Brooks, and Cranston), Gosling delivers a powerful performance in one of the most mesmerizing, unforgettable, and unique films of 2011.
Drive was directed by Nicolas Winding Refn and is rated R for strong brutal bloody violence, language and some nudity.
Theatrical Release: September 16, 2011