"Driver" (Ryan Gosling) is a stunt driver by day and a getaway driver by night. He gives his client(s) five minutes and never carries a gun. He works for a mechanic (Bryan Cranston) who is hoping that two mob bosses (Albert Brooks and Ron Perlman) will sponsor Driver behind the wheel of a race car. In other words, Driver is the best at what he does, which is driving. In the meantime, Driver has moved into a new building where he notices his neighbor Irene (Carey Mulligan) is taking care of her young son by herself until her husband (Oscar Isaac) gets out of prison. The husband ends up coming out of prison with some debts that need to be repaid. When this puts Irene and her son at risk, Driver steps in to help the family. The film is directed by Nicolas Winding Refn (Pusher, Bronson, Valhalla Rising), written by Hossein Amini (The Wings of the Dove), and based on the novel by James Sallis.
Gosling's performance is perhaps so nuanced, that this may one of the riskiest roles he has taken (and that's pretty damn risky when you consider his eclectic resume). As a viewer, we should be constantly asking questions about this guy as very little is known about him. He doesn't let us know about his family or past. He wears a really cool white jacket with a gold scorpion on it. He likes toothpicks.
We've seen this type of character before from classics like A Fistful of Dollars or Le Samourai and more recent films like Ghost Dog or The American; the great existential protagonists. I think the performance pays off once I interpreted what I felt Refn was trying to say (more on that in a moment...). I just stand by my statement of "so nuanced" because I feel like Gosling and Refn are very much on the same page that it gets to the point where we see why Driver has these minimal aspects about him.
The rest of the cast is fantastic. Mulligan embodies the fragility that Driver will do anything to protect. In addition, the other actors bring so much to the table that we actually know more about them than our hero. For example, Bernie (Brooks) is kind of what Driver might become if it not for Irene. After all, both Bernie and Driver have a raging violence behind their calm demeanor.
Now, before I go on to talk about what this movie meant to me, I want to add that I'd like to remind what few readers I may have to not be so trusting in advertisements. Someone who might be uncommon with "all-things-film-industry" might see the trailer and get something totally different out of the movie. Advertisements function to sell a movie. To be honest, I had no trouble with what was advertised because I applied the kind of movie they were selling to Refn's sensibilities. I like watching trailers to get parts of a whole, not the other way around.
I guess my point is, take this movie for what it's worth. I don't mean dive into these characters and this narrative unconditionally, but look at the themes and the messages, all of which are up to interpretation. I, for example, took the movie to be about loneliness and love. Something that I do think is a universal observation, is that this movie is about a mood. This movie doesn't have the most obvious logic to it. There are moments that are so outrageous that you have to take a step back and try to find some artistry (and I'm not even talking about the violence, if anything I'm talking about the romance). Either way, Refn and Amini manage to make us really care about these characters before the shooting and car chases start.
I found this to be artistically powerful, but that is only my opinion. I know it's obvious that when I'm stating something for the public to read, I'm stating my own thoughts. I still want to stress that this movie comes across to me in a deeply personal way (as I'm studying filmmaking with the hopes to become involved in the industry). Someone else might be really annoyed or upset by all of this, but I'll just say I was moved and leave it at that.
Drive is full of hidden emotions. When the moments come where those feelings are laid bare, have fun trying to apply it to yourself and the world around you. It's a tricky process, these emotions of ours. Refn, Amini, and Gosling seem to understand that. They create a world that is inhabited so richly, that one might overlook all of that with their preconceived expectations through hype.