Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive constantly shifts gears between gritty action sequences and deceptively calm tension building moments, all set to an addictive electric soundtrack featuring Destiny’s “Under Your Spell” and Kevinsky’s “Nightcall.” Hollywood’s most dapper man of the moment Ryan Gosling fills the title-yet-unnamed role of Driver, a mystery man and automotive whiz kid who fixes up cars, destroys them as a stunt driver on movie sets, and earns a little extra on the side as a getaway driver for small-time heists.
Gosling perfectly blends vulnerable and stoic, with a slightly unhinged and extremely lonely personality. He’s a man whose past is unknown to the audience and every other character in the film; he’s got a soft spot for the lovely and fragile Irene, played by Carey Mulligan, and her adorable son Benicio, played by youngster Kaden Leos.
Standard, played by Oscar Isaac, returns as Irene’s fresh-out-of-jail husband with intentions of rebuilding his family and turning over a new leaf; he quickly upsets the quiet romance growing between Driver and Irene. Unfortunately, Standard’s past catches up with him. Mysterious henchmen heckle and blackmail him into participating in one last heist to pay an old debt.
Upon hearing that the powers that be have made it clear that incompetence will mean danger for Irene and Benicio, Driver steps in and offers his services to make sure the heist goes smoothly. Christina Hendricks sweeps onto the screen as small-time criminal Blanche, bringing with her double crosses and danger. Any more will give too much of the plot away, and this movie is more than worth the price of admission.
Albert Brooks plays a chilling and somewhat relatable mob boss, and Bryan Cranston portrays the perpetually down-on-his-luck average Joe who owns the auto shop and is, for all intents and purposes, the Driver’s “manager” or “handler,” if you will. Refn, also director of Valhalla and Pusher, pulls off particularly gruesome and bloody sequences with a certain panache, using dream-like lighting to give his electro-soundtrack fueled emotional sequences extra oomph.
The movie successfully evokes emotion in the audience as we watch Driver struggle with emotions and the curse of doing the right thing in the wrong way; he’s at once a very stoic and capable criminal and at other times a lost schoolboy trying to win over his crush. Very few of the characters in the movie come with back stories (we do get a peek into Irene’s past) and their futures remain uncertain as the movie ends, which will leave some audience members unsatisfied. However, for those for whom the destination is not a concern, Drive will prove to be a very satisfactory ride that you’ll soon be craving again and again.