If you want to make your getaway, you need to play it cool. No squealing tires. No panic at the first sign of the police.
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 let out just in time for him to ditch the car and just stroll away with the crowds.
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Gosling (Crazy, Stupid, Love) as Driver suggests a sort of blue-collar cunning here. He probably has 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.
In the meantime, he has this other gig — and a precise set of rules about method of payment and the window of time he'll be at the scene of the crime — "five minutes," Driver 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 out the toothpick that's always in his mouth 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 based on 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 tour de force for Tom Hardy, 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 plan 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, then pins our ears back when they stomp the accelerator.