When you sit down to watch a movie about a guy who drives for a living, you expect something big with over-the-top action. Like Jason Statham’s franchise, The Transporter. Fight scenes punctuated by fits of crazy fast driving. And that’s what the trailers for Drive made it look like. In reality, not so much.
Ryan Gosling plays a man whose life revolves around cars. He’s a part time stunt driver for movies who works in a garage during the day and works as a getaway driver for heists at night. He falls for a married woman with a kid and decides to help her husband with some of his less than legal problems. Everything spins out of control from there.
The first scene in the movie sets the tone perfectly. In The Transporter, we meet Jason Statham’s character when he drives like a madman to help the people who hired him escape from the police. It’s a fast-paced, high-energy scene that lets you know what kind of ride you’re in for. Drive opens with a similar scene but a very different tone. Gosling’s character, who remains unnamed throughout the film, can drive fast when the situation warrants it but chooses a more calculated approach that requires strategy over speed. He is quiet, withdrawn and focused on the task in front of him at all times. But when certain lines get crossed and the people he cares about are threatened, he becomes brutal beyond comprehension.
Action scenes in this film are brief but impactful. Rather than engaging in massive martial arts fights, The Driver is quick, decisive and brutal. The people he takes out die painfully.
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Outside of the driving and the fighting, very little about The Driver is given to us. You pick it up in the scenes where he simply interacts with other people, rarely saying a word. The watcher never finds out who he is or where he came from. And the brilliant part is that it doesn’t matter. We know everything that we need to know about The Driver from what happens in the course of this film and how he responds to these situations. The woman and child he connects with mean so much to him that he goes on a rampage to defend them, despite how recent the connection is. His calm façade falls aside quickly and reveals the rage seething underneath.
Ryan Gosling is outstanding as the unnamed driver. He goes from calm to rage perfectly but shines through the best in those moments when The Driver simply enjoys time with the kid. Ron Perlman and Albert Brooks both turn in fantastic performances as a pair of mobsters that are both friend and foe. And Bryan Cranston is, as always, ridiculously great as The Driver’s handler, employer and closest friend.
Driver is an unexpectedly brilliant and engaging story that takes the watcher in a completely different direction than we’ve been conditioned to expect. It is a career defining role for Gosling and a fantastic film.
Ian Goodwillie is a columnist for the Spectator Tribune. Follow him on Twitter at @ThePrairieGeek and on Tumblr at iangoodwillie.tumblr.com.