When the title of your movie recalls Walter Hill’s The Driver, and the font on the poster references the one for Michael Mann’s Thief, you’re setting high expectations in the cool-masculinity-professionalism department. But the director of the Pusher trilogy and a movie about Vikings has never been at a loss for movie-movie swagger, even if the success of his films leans heavily on the sustaining of trance-like states more than moviemaking chops.
Drive raises the stakes by employing the services of the drawling, smarmy, admittedly well-built Ryan Gosling, as an expressionless getaway driver whose day job is movie stuntwork. Gosling and Refn are a dangerous combination because both are specialists in pandering moodiness. Refn gives Gosling all the pregnant silences and slo-mo he needs to become the protector of a neighboring mom (Carey Mulligan) whose husband gets out of jail halfway through their loosy-goosy flirtation period. Our heroic driver’s decency gets the better of him when he volunteers to help clear the husband’s debt by doing a heist, leading to a roundabout entanglement with a pair of dinosaur Jewish gangster siblings (craftily played by Albert Brooks and Ron Perlman, the former upstaging the latter).
While you could lean back and nod along to Refn’s posturing, the film plays more like an exercise in turn-of-the-Eighties nostalgia, a movie-length strong-silent swagger inspired by the art on a VHS box.