Danish director Nicholas Winding Refn said that “Drive” is his vision of a contemporary fairy tale about a princess who has to be rescued from a dragon. It is a highly stylized, brilliantly acted, and brutally violent story about a man we know only as “the Driver” (Ryan Gosling), a mechanic, sometime movie stunt driver, and occasional getaway driver. He befriends a young mother named Irene (Carey Mulligan) and her son while her husband is in prison.
“You put this kid behind a wheel and there’s nothing he can’t do,” says a gimpy guy named Shannon (“Breaking Bad’s” Bryan Cranston), who runs the garage where the Driver works. “How’s the leg?” asks Nino (Ron Perlman). “I paid my debt,” says Shannon, acknowledging the real question. This is a world where debts must be paid and reminders of that fact can be painful.
And this is a world where the Driver is not the only one who has a range of roles that include both sides of the law. And there are bad guys and really bad guys and really, really bad guys. Irene’s husband Standard (a superb Oscar Isaac) gets out of prison. When he is sucked into one more robbery, the Driver goes along to make sure nothing bad happens. And then a lot of very bad stuff happens, and that makes him a target. Irene and her son are at risk and so is a woman named Blanche (“Mad Men’s” Christina Hendricks, looking great in tight jeans, even when she’s terrified). Behind much of what goes on are the deceptively genial Bernie Rose (look for a Supporting Actor nomination for Albert Brooks) and the hot-tempered and impetuous Nino.
It is a volatile situation, and Refn plays that off the minimalist storyline, stripped-down dialog, retro electronic soundtrack, and cool compositions, with each frame as perfectly laid out as a still life waiting to be painted, each movement as swoon-worthily choreographed as a ballet.