This seems to be the year of Ryan Gosling. The ex-Mouseketeer has turned into one of the best actors working in Hollywood today and gives his second great performance of 2011 in Drive. With Crazy Stupid Love in his rear-view mirror and The Ides of March (George Clooney's political drama) on the way next month, Gosling is sure to be considered for multiple films come Oscar time. (By the way, I'm not sure how I feel about Eddie Murphy hosting the Oscars. I guess it depends on if the old Raw/Delirious Eddie Murphy shows up or if the more family-friendly Norbit / Shrek Eddie Murphy decides to host. .... anyways...) It'll be hard for him to top what he's accomplished in this film.
Gosling plays a stunt driver in LA that ends up moonlighting as a wheel-man for small heist jobs. He ends up meeting a love interest in his building (played by Carry Mulligan) and through a series of circumstances winds up involved in a heist job gone wrong where a cast of mob thugs (including great performances by Albert Brooks and Ron Perlman) puts him and his associates in trouble. I won't spoil the plot for you but needless to say Director Nicolas Winding Refn puts a lot of effort into Pulp Fiction style scenes of extreme violence once the action gets going in the second half of the movie. The first half of the film is particularly slow as Refn builds the characters using very minimal dialogue. Some scenes were a bit awkward and puzzling as Gosling and Mulligan would just stare at each other, saying a few words every minute. It was odd but helped build up Gosling's "driver" (yes, he has no name in the movie) as a quiet loner. Throughout the film, Gosling is able to convey a great deal of emotion without actually saying a word. He has a commanding presence on-screen and I believe he is a shoe-in to win an Oscar within the next five years. Without him, this movie could not be made.
The music in this movie is very effective in setting the tone. Cliff Martinez (who scored recent movies I've seen like Lincoln Lawyer and Contagion) is one of my new favorite composers and features synthysizer-heavy 80's style music that drives the action. Every time Gosling is at the wheel of his car, we get a muted techno beat that thumps along as the tires grip the road. The gritty atmosphere of LA is portrayed perfectly in the collection of songs put together in this soundtrack. Refn features a lot of night shots that help build tension throughout the film.
PS: If anyone wants to get me an early Christmas present, I'd love to get a replica of the totally cool scorpion jacket that Gosling wears in the movie. It would make a pretty smooth Halloween costume.