Great point guards bring their own pace to a game. They'll take you herky-jerky, stop-start your ankles, quick then smooth, keeping you off-balance until you don't have any clue what speed is coming at you next. This is what Drive does, and to its eternal credit, what Drive is. The pace of this film is a beautiful thing to behold, as Drive is a patient but taut thriller.
Ryan Gosling is a driver. He'll give you five minutes of wheel time, keep you safe, delivering you to your destination with style. He wears driving gloves and has a stopwatch, and he's very serious about his profession. The opening scenes of Drive show Gosling at his most precise, evading the police after a warehouse heist. It should be noted that this isn't a car chase movie -- it's far superior, because it's all about the technique (which ideally, you won't sweat). After the heist, the cops are on the hunt and Gosling has to do his thing. Driver (the film grants him no name) occasionally just stops driving all together, letting the momentum of the authorities in pursuit carry them away from his clients. At other moments he's massively aggressive with his maneuvers, and these are the moments of ratcheted risks and pained grimaces. Building, building, building the tension -- that's the goal of Drive, and it delivers throughout until eventually you're willing buyer of whatever it wants to sell you.
Enter Carey Mulligan as Driver's next-door neighbor. She, like Driver, carries some battle scars, and they circle each other like tigers in a ring. The whole soundtrack is infused with a lovely '80s synth vibe, at once futuristic and nostalgic. Sublimely executed.
Problems do (naturally) ensue, in the form of relationships gone awry on all sides. Driver's other job is as a mechanic, and his boss has dreams of him racing professionally. Unfortunately, to stake Driver's racing career he gets involved with some unsavory characters, for an unsavory loan with massively untenable terms. This is where Albert Brooks (as Bernie Rose) enters the fray, and he's never been better. Things aren't too positive on the home front either as a shadowy figure from Mulligan's past shows up at her door. There's a child involved too, if only so we can see the melting of Gosling's icy facade for a few moments.
Gosling, for his part, seems to mature as an actor minute by minute as the film plays out. Driver is a dangerous sort of man, blustery cold with unpredictable moments of boil, and Gosling plays it all like a Stradivarius, which is to say he uses the very capable tool he's been given in a masterful manner. The only real knock on Drive is that it's occasionally violent, and there are those in our society who would prefer to avoid violence on film. It's a fair point, but I loved Drive, and I think you might too. Tense, well-acted, well-conceived, and well-executed, Drive is a pretty good example of what happens when exceptional skill meets opportunity.