"Some heroes are real," so ride shotgun with Ryan Gosling as the anonymous 'Driver' -- a Hollywood stunt car driver who moonlights as a wheelman for local criminals and the heroic protagonist in the award winning drama, Drive, directed by Nicholas Winding Refn. The antithesis of an evil mastermind, Driver's primary concern is protecting his closely-guarded identity as a wheelman. All he wants to do -- and all he ever does -- in his crooked career is drive. That's it. Operating out of his washed-up mentor-boss (Bryan Cranston)'s dilapidated body shop, he never works with the same crew twice, doesn't carry a gun, wants nothing to do with the details and only allows his clients a five minute window to get in, get the goods and get out before he leaves them holding the bag.
Our nameless Driver is quietly anti-social at best and perhaps emotionally damaged at worst: he hardly speaks, barely expresses any outward emotion and appears steadfastly committed to his life of inconspicuous solitude. Slowly, it seems as though the whole plan might be derailed as he falls in love with his beautiful neighbor, Irene (Carey Mulligan), a young mother with too much to lose. When her ex-con husband, Standard (Oscar Isaac), is unexpectedly released from prison, you can't help but mourn for the young un-couple and the romance that was silenced before it could whisper. Surprisingly, Standard is genuinely penitent and welcomes Driver as a friend and comrade.
In the interim, Shannon has bitten off more than he can chew -- borrowing money from a vicious loan shark and gangster, Bernie Rose (Albert Brooks) to fund a racing scheme that would pay for itself a hundred times over -- until the tab runs out, with the promise of a visit from Rose's ruthless henchman (Ron Perlman) if the debt cannot be paid.
Driver's attachment to Irene leads him directly into the lion's den -- not that anything less could be expected -- when Standard's former employer starts calling in his chips, demanding Standard carry out a daytime pawn shop robbery -- one down and dirty job to buy his freedom. When it becomes clear that Standard's 'business associations' have endangered Irene and her son, Driver volunteers his services for the heist. A $40,000 robbery with Standard and a small, professional crew (inc. Christina Hendricks' character, Blanche). When the pieces start to fall into place and things just aren't adding up, the high-stakes heist goes sour, leaving Standard dead, a price on Driver's head and $1,000,000 in cash. Following a satisfying chase scene, Driver and Blanche hole up in a motel, just in time to catch the local news coverage of the pawn shop robbery. As fewer and fewere details add up, Driver forces Blanche to admit it was a set-up orchestrated by Nino, Bernie Rose's right hand man. Realizing too late that they were seeking shelter in the eye of the storm, Blanche is killed befoer Driver dispatches Nino's hired guns, sent to silence the only connections between Nino, Standard and the East Coast Mob's missing million.
Fueled by a desire to avenge Blanche's death, Driver heads back to confront Nino and Rose. Discovering that Rose had beat him to the garage, Driver finds Shannon dead and sets out to pay a visit to Nino. Relying on driving skills that can only be attributed to his stunt work, Driver sends Nino's limousine careening down an outcropping to land on the beach. Nino crawls from the smoldering wreckage, Driver drags him into the ocean.
Confident that Driver's singular goal is to protect Irene and her son, Rose proposes they meet at a restaurant and tidy up the exchange: Driver brings the criminals' cash and Rose calls off the hit on Irene. Openly acknowledging that he has signed his own death warrant, Driver leads himself to the gallows and meets Rose in a parking lot. He hands over the bag of cash; Rose pulls a knife, but Driver, for the first time, didn't show up unarmed. Leaving Rose dead with the open bag of cash, the final scene winds down as Driver, fatally wounded, drives around the night-darkened city, listening to music and waiting--
Despite his unrivaled skills behind the wheel, Driver learned first-hand that there are no clean getaways.
Denmark's Nicolas Winding Refn makes an electrifying return to Hollywood filmmaking with this 1980s-style noir, right down to the synth score and neon-pink credits (he released his American debut, Fear X
, in 2003). Ryan Gosling puts his implacable quality to good use as an L.A. stunt driver whose world crumbles when he falls for the wrong woman (Carey Mulligan). Irene is hardly a femme fatale, but her incarcerated husband, Standard (Oscar Isaac), is another story. When her car breaks down, Driver recommends the auto shop where he works with Shannon (Breaking Bad
's Bryan Cranston). The two start spending time together, but then Standard returns from prison. Driver keeps his distance until he discovers that Standard owes protection money. If he doesn't pay up, Irene and their son will suffer, so Driver offers to handle the wheel during a heist, a job with which he has more than a little experience, as the riveting opening sequence proves. While they plan their score with Blanche (Mad Men
's Christina Hendricks), Shannon makes a deal with a couple of gangsters (Albert Brooks and Ron Perlman), but when the plans collide: all hell breaks loose. In adapting James Sallis's novel, Refn builds to a bittersweet denouement, though the bursts of bloodshed will test even the hardiest of viewers. At its best, though, Drive
is every bit as gripping as Reagan-era crime dramas like To Live and Die in L.A.
. --Kathleen C. Fennessy