Driver (Gosling) is a man of few words. We know nothing about his past, his first name, or why he rocks that Greaser jacket. All we know is he is indeed talented behind the wheel. But whenever he finds time to spare some words, they are quite fierce and intimidating. It's clear there is a lot going on in his mind at all times, but rarely does he choose to let anyone in on it. Luckily for us, what he lacks for in dialogue is made up in cruelty and mercilessness. When we are graced with some action, it is handled brutally, yet beautifully. Driver is constantly reminding others that he can handle himself at more places than behind the wheel, and finds himself tearing through everyone that the mob, whom he has become entangled with, throws at him.
Driver isn't afraid to get his hands bloody, and he proves this more than once. But he does so in a natural, non-exploitative way. He only does what he needs to survive, and to protect Irene (Carey Mulligan), his new love interest. Save the guy's head he curb-stomped. That dude was a jerk. Totally had it coming.
Refn manages to make me feel guiltlessly nostalgic for the 80s while not actually being set in the 80s, and I was born very late in the decade. The films entire opening credit sequence is a throwback to Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, and it's apparent the film's soundtrack has taken a line or two of the yeyo off a stripper's back as well. Just like how Driver's patience is made up for in his actions, Refn's patience is made up for in Newton Thomas Sigel's beautiful work behind the camera as cinematographer. Every shot is literally a work of art, both in placement and lighting. Sometime's the film will poetically dive into slow-motion, give you the chance to engulf yourself in the world he has created. There is at least one moment when Sigel will cheat the system and unnaturally darken areas that shouldn't be dark, and put a spotlight on the central character, making me feel like I'm seeing a play on broadway rather than a film.
There is a terrific all around cast to be found here, from Bryan Cranston as Gosling's father-figure, a menacing Albert Brooks as Bernie Rose, head of the local mob, and Rob Perlman as Nino (known to most as Hellboy), partner to Rose and a rising figure in said mob. It is great watching these two interact, as they share some of the best dialogue in the film: "'What are you doing eating chink food in my shop?' 'What's a Jew doing running an Italian restaurant?'"
The greatest thing I can say about the film is to just go out and see it. It is an incredibly refreshing alternative to anything else out there right now. While it is unfair to compare the film to others of the street racing genre since it doesn't fit said category at all, it goes without saying that Drive makes the Fast and the Furious franchise look like the short bus of the highway.