Blending Michael Mann-style ambience with the visceral violence of a Martin Scorsese joint, this excellent thriller should see the stock of everyone involved rise to stratospheric levels. Ryan Gosling gives the kind of quietly assured performance you only see with actors that are completely obsessed with a role, and he's exceptional as an enigmatic stuntman who moonlights as a getaway driver for thieves. Bronson helmer Winding Refn directs his new favourite leading man in a indisputable modern crime classic.
Gosling's character is never named and known only as "The Kid" when referred to by his boss, Shannon (a fantastically sleazy Brian Cranston), or "Driver" by anyone he works with. As a getaway driver there's no one better, and that skill seeps into his day job as a mechanic and stunt driver, too, working for the increasingly desperate Shannon. But just as his life starts to get comfortable, things get complicated; he meets and falls in love with his sweet neighbour (Carey Mulligan), who is living with her son while her husband serves time. Later, he becomes involved with Albert Brooks' violent gangster.
Ranking alongside Heat and Gone Baby Gone (yes, it's that good), Drive does everything right and with confidence. Gosling's character could easily be a young Neil McCauley, and it's that type of subtle intensity - portrayed organically by the searingly charismatic leading man - that's the nucleus of this wonderful film. It's been a big year for Gosling, and his role here is an actor's wet dream, but he never once oversells it. You never really know what this guy is thinking until a surprising sensitivity kicks in and he makes a decision he would never have made before he meeting the character of Mulligan's vulnerable young mother. It's an ambiguous, but completely cohesive performance from Hollywood's current credibility magnet. Albert Brooks deserves mentioning, too - his gang boss is terrifying, but strangely endearing.
You know the type of film you're in for the minute the opening frames begin rolling, when Refn's retro score plays over a nighttime LA scene. It's an assured and stylish beginning, but it's followed through competently with practical, efficient dialogue and sporadic moments of shocking violence. Yet those moments are never glamorised, and are always relevant to the character and plot. Refn stages one shoot-out in particular that comes seemingly out of nowhere, the aftermath of which feels disturbingly real. Watch this young director soar after Drive's release and expect mammoth franchises to be thrown his way.
As soon as Drive was over I wanted to see it again. It's been a long time since I've said that. A phenomenal film.