There are many different ways to kill a man, and some of them are demonstrated quite graphically in “Drive,” ranging from slashing with a razor to stabbing with a curtain rod. The only one that did not involve copious amounts of blood was drowning.
Ryan Gosling plays an automobile mechanic in Los Angeles who works occasionally as a stunt driver for the movies and moonlights as a getaway driver for stickup men. He guarantees them five minutes of police evasion in a souped-up car, and then they are on their own. But then he discovers Irene, played by Carey Mulligan, who’s both lovely and lonely, and he resolves to go straight and start a new life. Their romance develops slowly since Gosling channels his inner Gary Cooper and plays the Driver (no name is ever mentioned) as the strong, silent type. He probably had little trouble learning his lines since there are so few of them.
Things go haywire when Irene’s husband is sprung from prison, but his debts follow him and both the husband and the Driver are sucked back into the underworld. Gosling nearly meets his match in another, unseen driver in a doublecross and resolves to get even and protect Irene and her four-year-old son. The bad guys fight back. Weapons include a hammer, a fork, and a kitchen knife as well as the usual pistols and shotguns, operated at close range.
The cast is solid, with Albert Brooks as a sleazy investor in a harebrained scheme hatched by Bryan Cranston as Shannon, who thinks he can use The Driver to break into stock-car racing. Ron Perlman is a hoodlum hiding behind a pizza place instead of the motorcycle club he helps lead in “Sons of Anarchy.”
The question is whether the Driver can get out of this mess alive and save Irene, which is, I suppose, a rather old-fashioned gangster movie trope. What sets this film apart is Gosling’s steely performance and the producers’ heavy investment in fake blood. Don’t see it if you’re squeamish. I was hiding behind the popcorn.