Gosling clearly in this Driver’s seat
Few young actors these days can pull off the toothpick chew for an entire film. But Ryan Gosling can do it, and chew he does as “Driver,” a part-time stunt driver and mechanic who maintains a mysterious cool in the taut thriller “Drive.” Though the film contains some superb performances, the true star here may be Danish director Nicholas Winding Refn, who manages to mesh a patient, stylistic slow burn script with some abrupt and tension-filled scenes of manic violence.
As the film opens, Gosling’s character is filling his other job, that of getaway driver whose unique skills behind the wheel help him pick up extra money for questionable hires including his down on the luck garage owner (Bryan Cranston). For a while, the minimal dialogue and atmospheric bent of inner city Los Angeles reveal little of the potent carnage to come. “Driver” as he is known becomes interested in his cute neighbor Irene (Carey Mulligan) and her little boy, and things get interesting when the boy’s father is released from jail and comes back to live with his family.
From there, things spin out of control—crime still doesn’t pay—and Refn deftly combines homages to Michael Mann’s drama and (with restraint) Quentin Tarantino’s blood fests into an increasingly taut nail-biter of a noir thriller with its own sense of pulp narrative and graphic consequences. After one particularly brutal scene, Gosling looks up at Mulligan’s character in a sense of apologetic derangement, an example of the many layers the young actor can exhume from his roles. Credit the filmmakers for casting Albert Brooks as a sadistic hoodlum in as far an against-type performance as you will likely see this year.
“Drive” effectively lulls the viewer into thinking it’s a character-based piece; part of the enjoyment is how Refn ratchets up the stakes considerably, but the squeamish should be warned. For the rest, “Drive” is that rare film that can shock both with its uncommonly cool style and chillingly raw substance.
Rated R for strong, brutal bloody violence, language and some nudity.