And the film's title doesn't simply describe the action of getting behind the wheel and putting the pedal to the metal, although there's plenty of that. Drive can be more accurately described by another definition—motivation; a purpose in life. Until Driver meets Irene and sees the trouble Stan is going to get her into, he's rudderless. Now, as with Travis Bickle's newfound purpose to rescue Iris in Scorsese's Taxi Driver, he has something to make him act. And, like Bickle, he resorts to extreme violence.
Drive pays tribute to films of many decades at once. The hot pink opening titles, swooping nighttime views of Los Angeles and Cliff Martinez' synth score are reminiscent of Paul Brickman's 1983 Risky Business. The grittiness brings to mind Scorsese's '70s films. The graphic violence is right out of Tarantino's '90s playbook. And with its antihero star, it also owes a debt to French existential cinema and film noir.
Cinematographer Newton Thomas Sigel provides a vivid palette for the film, using color for dramatic emphasis and giving us a well-deserved break from the endless stream of desaturated, green-tinged movies we've seen this decade. Even the violence—shocking as it is—is artistically rendered.
The always-reliable Cranston is good as the edgy Shannon, always looking over his shoulder as if something horrible is about to happen to him. Brooks plays against type as the cheery but cold-blooded Rose. Mulligan is a good match for Driver, and the many scenes in which not a word is exchanged between them nevertheless have emotional heft. Gosling has never been more internalized. Here, he's acting mostly with his eyes and gestures, and it's mesmerizing.
If you go into Drive thinking you're going to see a Fast and Furious clone, you'll be disappointed. But if you want to be challenged by some really distinctive and rewarding filmmaking, this one's for you.