The Driver is intense. Methodical, cold, pensive, we meet him (Ryan Gosling) on task. He’s a cowboy; always on point, quiet with toothpick dangling. You give him a location and he’ll give you five minutes to do your work and get you out. After that, you’re on your own. He’s hard to mistake with that white coat – a golden scorpion is stitched on the back – that he wears to every task. The Driver’s life is simple and he’s good at it, but he’s not detached: when the girl next door (Irene, played by Carey Mulligan) and her seven-year-old son tug at his heart strings, a smile isn’t far behind. He’s human after all, doing what’s right to protect her, even if that involves the spontaneous use of acute violence.
While The Driver moonlights as a wheelman, during the day he’s a stunt driver, working out of his boss’s car shop. Bryan Cranston plays Shannon, the Driver’s confidant and taskmaster who sells him as a stock car racer to some shady individuals (Al Brooks, Ron Perlman). Shannon’s luck isn’t great, but this is the best he can do; as it turns out, the Driver’s luck isn’t better. When Irene’s husband returns from prison, he ends up in the same mess as before. To protect Irene, the Driver gets involved in her husband’s work and things turn bad quickly.
Drive is The Transporter for the thinking man. Instead of whip pans and super stylish gunfights at every idle moment, we receive a meditation on the Driver and who he is, why he fights. Ryan Gosling is incredible here as he switches from cool to mean to oddly affectionate and back again with conviction, he’s the perfect man for the job. When the violence comes, it’s fast and intense: director Nicolas Refn consulted Gaspar Nöe for a particular death in this film and it shows his commitment to how tragically these people have to end. The film sails on an ethereal score punctuated by new wave pop, leaving me to wonder if that’s the sound roaring inside his head as he operates. If you’re expecting a wham-bam action flick you’re going to sorely disappointed, but be prepared to study the machinations of the Driver and you’re in for a hell of a ride.