Movies: Drive

As Driver, Ryan Gosling stakes his claim to being his generation's great movie anti-hero.
Photo: Richard Foreman
That Ryan Gosling might very well be the Steve McQueen of this generation is evidenced by the nuanced, quiet, explosive performance in Drive, a mix of action and art that opens today.

Ryan Gosling is a movie stunt man who has a side career driving getaway cars for thieves. His character, who is never named and is referred to only as “Driver,” is one cool guy. He’s is completely unflappable, even keeping a toothpick in his lips while eluding pursuers or beating someone up.

The Driver meets his neighbor Irene (Carey Mulligan), a woman whose husband, named Standard (Oscar Isaac), is finishing up a prison term. Even knowing she is unavailable, Driver likes being around Irene and her son. So, when Standard has to pull a heist, Driver signs up to do his thing.

Of course, the job goes terribly wrong and a movie in which the action was, until that point, primarily well done car chases, gets very violent very quickly,

The cast assembled is first-rate. Breaking Bad’s Bryan Cranston is Driver’s mechanic and mentor. Albert Brooks plays against type as a very bad guy and Ron Perlman radiates menace. Mad Men’s Christina Hendricks makes a short appearance, decorative but doomed.

Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn, working from a script by Hossein Amini that is based on the short novel by James Sallis, has made a fascinating film. The car chases rank up there with those in Bullitt and, from the very beginning, the sense of foreboding, the sense that something awful will happen, is lurking in the background, adding an edge to the movie.

The center of Drive is Gosling’s masterful portrayal. As quiet as his character, a man of very few words, is he dominates the entire film. In Drive Ryan Gosling, following many good performances as many types of characters, once and for all has served notice that he is a major presence in the film landscape and film is better for that.