Remember when movies used to be about bad-ass dudes staring each other down, driving cars, stealing stuff, and occasionally punching each other? And instead of using a bunch of words to indicate how masculine they were, they used acting skills and perhaps a barely showing tuft of chest hair sticking out of their polyester shirt? I like to refer to those films as the "No Posturing" Genre (see also: Thief, The Driver, Bullitt). Absent for many moons, in a world that's full of false confidence built on a house of cards and a semi-automatic weapon, Drive is a return to movies of days long gone by. This is the kind of flick you wear out when it's finally released on DVD.
Gosling plays a Hollywood stunt driver who keeps to himself (side note: his character is credited as Driver, which only reinforces his introspective, anonymous ways). In his off days, he works as a mechanic and a freelance criminal escort for folks committing a crime who need a driver. Shannon (Bryan Cranston), his boss at the shady "temp agency," insists on associating with people like Bernie Rose (Albert Brooks) to get jobs and finance his ventures. Bernie is the world's most deceptively shlubby gangster, and will kill you while you're distracted wondering why he still wears his hair like that. Bernie also has friends like Nino (Ron Perlman), who routinely does things like steal money from the mob. This is how the movie becomes a bloodbath, including scenes with Ryan Gosling beating the bejeezus out of someone in an elevator right after a legendary kiss between him and Irene (Carey Mulligan). Oh wait, I didn't even mention the love subplot yet. There's a lot going on in this movie.
Ryan Gosling is everywhere these days, and I couldn't be happier. When Morgan Freeman said, "If you have a talent for acting, it is the talent of listening," he might as well have added "like Ryan Gosling does." That seems to be his primary approach in most films, but particularly this one. As a result, Drive is almost a silent film--the tension between characters and unspoken messages are what make up the bulk of the film. This isn't to say that it's boring or without action--just think of it like a laser beam. It can be quiet and pretty, but instantly deadly and explosive.
The film rotates around Gosling's calm confidence, and each performer brings a kind of understated heat to the screen that makes the movie shimmer like heat waves off the pavement. No character screams about how gangsta they are; they just find themselves in an argument and then someone gets their throat slit. The whole movie tends to sneak up on the viewer time and time again. This absolutely includes the killer soundtrack that makes the movie feel like a synth-pop dream, filled with long, deep kisses and firing shotguns. Ah, the good old days.