An intense Gosling propels the moody, art-house thriller Drive

An intense, solitary, quiet man with no name—sounds an awful lot like the “spaghetti western” days of Clint Eastwood in his “Man With No Name” trilogy. In those films, Eastwood was a man one didn’t know much about because he didn’t say much and expressed very little, if any, emotion. With director Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive, we have another intense man with no name in the immensely talented Ryan Gosling.  Driven by another memorable turn by Gosling and Refn’s moody and atmospheric visionary style, Drive fires on all cylinders and the result is an absorbingly dark, art-house thriller.

Essentially only identified as “Driver,” Gosling’s character is a getaway driver for criminals by night, while by day is a movie stunt driver and mechanic. The sequence that opens the film a few minutes in sets the stage nicely for Gosling’s driver character. Driver says absolutely nothing to the two men he’s the getaway driver for during a late-night L.A. heist. With every job, the criminals have five minutes to get in, get what they came for, and get out before he drives away. Cool, calm and collectively, he knows exactly how to avoid both street-level and aerial police pursuits. He does all this without a hint of emotion and a perfect display of grace under pressure—no words, no display of fear; he just drives. Perfectly exhibiting a “cool-as-a-cucumber” persona in this sequence alone, Gosling could not have embodied this character more.

Back at home, Driver soon meets a lonely young neighbor in his apartment building named Irene (played by Carey Mulligan). In his own quiet way, he is drawn to Irene and soon enough forms a bond with her as well as her young son Benecio, whose dad is in prison. Also, Driver’s day life seems to be growing with new opportunities when his auto shop boss Shannon (played by Bryan Cranston) makes a deal with a big-bucks investor named Bernie Rose (played by Albert Brooks) to back Driver as a stock car racer. After a quick race car stint observation on the track, Driver meets Bernie but doesn’t shake his hand because it’s dirty from his drive. Bernie’s cunning and conniving-toned reply that his hands are dirty as well all too perfectly exhibits the shadiness of Bernie’s character.

Soon enough, Irene’s husband Standard (played by Oscar Isaac) is released from prison and reassumes his life with Irene and Benecio. Standard, however, is quickly and violently pursued for an unpaid debt and Driver is drawn into the ex-con’s dilemma because of his own muted concerns for Irene and Benecio’s wellbeing. The result of Driver’s involvement with helping Standard is a pawn shop robbery and a surprising link to Bernie’s towering criminal pal Nino (played Ron Perlman). At this point, Driver is now drawn into a dangerous underworld that ultimately requires more of him than his abilities to drive.

Driver is a very minimalist character, and Gosling couldn’t have been more right for the role. Gosling embodies a perfect brooding complexity throughout the film. In all of his films, he has an incredibly confident knack for becoming a role instead of simply showing the audience an actor portraying a role. He simply could not have been better here. He delivers a fascinating and coolly intense performance—not that anything less could ever be expected of him as of late.

The feel of the film is all art house and could never (and should never) be mistaken for a Fast and Furious-type of film. It’s a moody, atmospheric, stylish, art-house-feeling film with a well-rounded cast behind Gosling, with particular note going to Brooks for his very dark, wicked turn here. Appreciators of gritty, visually stylish, “indie-feeling” films will be compelled by Drive, and it comes highly recommended.

4½ out of 5 stars

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