One of the most unusual films to appear on American screens this year is Nicolas Winding Refn's Drive. Defiantly offbeat and challengingly structured, it's a distinctive take on the genre.
Ryan Gosling, fresh off his romcom success with Crazy, Stupid, Love, is back in serious mode as an unnamed character who is drifting through life, stunt driving for bad action movies by day and working as a getaway driver at night. Seeking to exploit his talent behind the wheel, his boss, Shannon (Bryan Cranston), manages to talk his boss, mobster Bernie Rose (Albert Brooks), into investing in a race car with which they can make some real money.
Driver (as Gosling's character is listed in the film's credits) meets and starts to fall for Irene (Carey Mulligan), a struggling young mother who lives down the hall from him and whose husband, Standard (Oscar Isaac) is in prison. Just as their relationship begins to blossom, she learns that Stan is about to be released.
Shortly after Stan returns home, trouble comes calling. He's severely beaten by thugs to whom he owes protection money for refusing to pull off a heist for them. They threaten to harm Irene and Benicio as well, so Driver volunteers to pilot the getaway car on the condition that once they receive their money they'll leave Stan and his family alone for good. What follows is a twisting and turning plot that certainly has its surprises, but to classify it as a mere action thriller doesn't do it justice.
Driver is a man of few words. Even when he's with Irene, he's content to smile at her in silence, which seems to be a relief for her, because she doesn't have to contrive something to say. All the talking is done by Shannon, Rose and Nino (Ron Perlman), Rose's big-mouthed partner. Otherwise, the film is strikingly silent. Like Driver, when it has nothing to say, it says nothing at all, which I found refreshing in this era of jacked-up, exploding Michael Bay soundtracks.