Even before the opening credits roll, Drive takes off with a sensational gush of adrenaline. The movie’s protagonist–identified only as “Driver,” and played by Ryan Gosling–is working as the getaway wheelman for a couple of bumbling heist specialists. Pulling away from the scene of their botched robbery, he finds himself suddenly pursued by a herd of cops in patrol cars and helicopters, and in a beautifully constructed sequence he outfoxes them with iron nerve and an encyclopedic knowledge of the streets of L.A. As a total pro, he already has a personal exit plan worked out–a very clever one–and it’s a treat to watch him bring it off.
The movie is a striking exercise in neo-noir style and compressed emotion goosed along with stabs of furious action, some of it shockingly violent. Gosling’s self-sufficient inwardness echoes the nameless antiheroes in any number of earlier films, from the Eastwood spaghetti westerns to Two Lane Blacktop and, more nearly, Walter Hill’s 1978 The Driver. His life is devoted entirely to automotive transport. He’s a garage mechanic and a movie stunt driver with crime as a sideline. When Irene (Carey Mulligan), the young woman who lives down the hall in his dismal apartment building, asks what he does, he says, “I drive.” And that really seems to be all.
His austere existence becomes dangerously complicated when his mentor, Shannon (Bryan Cranston)–the owner of the garage in which he works–comes up with a plan to buy a very expensive competition race car and install the driver behind the wheel for fortune and glory. Lacking the money to make this purchase, Shannon approaches a sleazy operator named Bernie Rose (Albert Brooks in a chilling performance). Bernie agrees to fund Shannon’s race-car dream, against the wishes of his vicious associate, Nino (Ron Perlman, equally alarming). In no time at all, things start going appallingly wrong.
Meanwhile, the driver is becoming emotionally entangled with Irene and her little boy, Benicio (Kaden Leos), whose father, a small-time criminal oddly named Standard (Oscar Isaac), is currently in prison. Upon his release, he gets the driver involved–along with an inscrutable woman named Blanche (Christina Hendricks)–in a pawn shop robbery that also goes very, very wrong.
Read the full review at Reason.com.