You need to stick to the speed limit. You need to know when to pull over behind a truck, turn off your lights and wait for the po-po to pass you by.
Or you need to hire “the kid,” a guy who knows those things. Ryan Gosling oozes Steve McQueen cool in “Drive,” a lean, pulsating thriller about a mechanic and part-time movie stunt-driver who moonlights as a “wheelman,” the fellow who can pick you up, take you to your robbery and get you out of there before the cops catch you.
He is the guy who knows that “there are a hundred thousand streets in this city,” the guy who knows how long a police helicopter will be able to commit to a search for a getaway car, what streets will be darkest, what public event will be letting out just in time for him to ditch the car and just stroll away with the crowds.
Gosling (“Crazy, Stupid Love”) suggests a sort of blue collar cunning here. He’s probably seen a few heist movies, a few car pictures. He builds cars, works on them and drives with precise abandon, when the movie stunt he’s asked to do calls for it. He could be a stock car driver, if his boss and partner in crime (Bryan Cranston) has his way. But in the meantime, he’s got this other gig — and a very precise set of rules about method of payment and the window of time he’ll be at the scene of the crime — “five minutes,” he says. And he lashes his watch to the steering wheel to show he’s serious.
“I don’t ’sit in.’ I don’t carry a gun. I drive.”
Carey Mulligan (“Wall Street 2″) is “the girl.” The driver takes the toothpick that’s always in his mouth out and gets this goofy grin every time he sees her and her little boy. And he finds something noble to do when her husband gets out of prison and needs help with a job he’s been blackmailed into pulling.
Albert Brooks and the great Ron Perlman perfectly embody lowlifes just slightly higher on the underworld food chain in Nicolas Winding Refn’s film of the James Sallis novel. Each is dangerous. One, at least, seems reasonable. And that’s the one you worry about.
Refn, who did the searing British prison picture, “Bronson” as a Tom Hardy tour de force, has created the quietest car picture ever. The dialogue is spare, with deadpan stares and meaningful glances developing the relationships. The silences, muted chases scored with understated music, build tension. We know there’s a “Bullitt” moment coming, a violent and noisy reckoning.
There are no cops hot on the trail of the criminals, just double dealing and double-crossing and blood and secret sides to every personality. This mild-mannered driver is capable of something. We feel it long before we see it.
Refn and Gosling are planning to team up for future movies, and based on what we see in “Drive,” that’s a good thing. The minimal dialogue does lead to a few too many fussy/busy “actorly” moments. But they have collaborated on a car picture that unnerves us with its idling quiet, and then pins our ears back when they stomp the accelerator.
MPAA Rating: R for strong brutal bloody violence, language and some nudity.
Cast: Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan, Brayn Cranston, Albert Brooks, Ron Perlman, Oscar Isaac.
Credits: Directed by Nicolas Winding Refn, script by Hossein Amini, based on a James Sallis novel. A FilmDistrict release. Running time: 1:40