Ryan Gosling stars as a Hollywood stunt driver for movies by day and moonlights as a wheelman for criminals by night. Though a loner by nature, “Driver” can’t help falling in love with his beautiful neighbor Irene (Carey Mulligan), a young mother dragged into a dangerous underworld by the return of her ex-convict husband. After a heist goes wrong, Driver finds himself driving defense for the girl he loves, tailgated by a syndicate of deadly serious criminals (Albert Brooks and Ron Perlman). Soon he realizes the gangsters are after more than the bag of cash and is forced to shift gears and go on the offense.
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