To frame it in the form of a simile that baseball fans will understand, Ryan Gosling right now is like Greg Maddux in 1994 and ’95, or Pedro Martinez in 1999 and 2000 — just absolutely crushing it, turning in casually dazzling performances in such a fashion that it will be virtually impossible for him to further forestall a People‘s “Sexiest Man Alive” magazine cover. Yes, in case there were any remaining doubts, after having danced around and avoided it for several years, not unlike Johnny Depp, Gosling is now taking the bullet train to stardom. His latest film, Drive, amply drives home that point.
The story finds the forthrightly named Driver (Gosling, oozing utterly unforced cool) a quiet loner who does movie stunt work during the day and serves as a for-hire criminal wheelman at night, falling under the spell of his neighbor Irene (Carey Mulligan), a vulnerable young mother. When Irene’s husband Standard (Oscar Isaac) gets out of jail, it lights a fuse of danger. Driver agrees to do a job to wipe clean Standard’s prison debt, but things go sideways, resulting in the further, unwanted scrutiny of a syndicate of deadly criminals.
Working from an adaptation of James Sallis’ eponymous novel by Academy Award nominee Hossein Amini, director Nicolas Winding Refn (Bronson) delivers a movie that pulses with an unwavering, premium-unleaded sense of purpose, giving its no-frills story a sense of supremely heightened stakes. Eschewing freeways and landmarks, Refn and cinematographer Newton Thomas Sigel turn L.A. into an at once intimate, mystical and menacing place. The performances are top notch, and Drive‘s score (by Cliff Martinez) and music selections, too, are hypnotic and of a piece — nervous, pulsing and desirous gems that give the movie a dreamlike hold. Yes, this is somewhat recombinant terrain, previously tilled by Michael Mann, William Friedkin and David Lynch. But when it’s this utterly mesmerizing, who in their right mind is complaining? (FilmDistrict, R, 100 minutes)