Ryan Gosling is a good actor. In fact, he's a brilliant actor. And Drive is his film all the way.
Gosling plays a car mechanic, who works part-time as a stunt driver and moonlights as a getaway car driver. He is a man with no name, no past and no real ambitions for the future. He is laconic, almost stoic - and somehow his silent presence in a scene makes everyone else seem a little bit too talkative. 'Driver' (as the character is credited) works for Shannon, the owner of the garage, who knows his potential and sets him up with movie stunts, heist deals and during the course of the story is about to set up a stock car race, with the help of the mob. Somewhere along the way, Driver bumps into his neighbour, Irene, who, along with her young son, becomes his friend and companion, his love interest, till her husband, Standard, comes out of jail. When Standard gets in trouble with the mob again, Driver offers to help out, to protect the family that he has come to love, and what follows the botched-up job is a quick spiral into a mad, violent killing spree that keeps the audience alternating between wanting to look away and not being able to take their eyes off the screen.
Drive is a very stylised, stylish film. It reminds you a little of Michael Mann films - probably because his films often have an 80s feel - but it takes that 'feel' to a different level altogether. Languid scenes, economical dialogue, electronic music, and a very particular use of lighting takes you straight back to films like Cruising (1980) and Cobra (1986) amongst many, many others - where the reticent male protagonist takes it upon himself to protect others from an evil force. From the opening sequence itself, you know that this is not an ordinary thriller. Every shot is poetry in motion - and even the opening credits, in a hot pink font, are a sign of the extreme care that has been put into this film.
The cast is worthy: Carey Mulligan (Irene), Bryan Cranston (Shannon), Oscar Isaac (Standard) and Albert Brooks (the mob-head Bernie Rose). But worthy as they all may be, it's Ryan Gosling's film. He reigns over every scene, without even opening his mouth through most of them. His face speaks volumes. A smile, a glance, a glare - every move he makes says more than pages of dialogue could. He is a force to reckon with and goes from endearing to frightening in seconds. When he follows up the greatest show of romance in the film, with the most violent act, it seems ever so natural.
Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn had earned his stars with Bronson (2008), but with Drive he has delivered a masterpiece. Whether you like it or hate it, it's definitely one of the most important films of the year. Don't miss it.