From Ann Hornaday (Washington Post):
Star of the moment Ryan Gosling delivers a slow, white-hot burn of a performance in “Drive,” a nervy, understated ode to one of Hollywood’s most cherished archetypes, the sad-eyed man of few words.
They can be cowboys, hit men or, in this case, loners who drive cars for a living. But no matter how chilly and reserved, the mysteries at their core mesmerize rather than repel.
As a getaway driver known only as Driver, Gosling obviously harks back to similar protagonists played by Ryan O’Neal, Lee Marvin, Robert De Niro and especially Steve McQueen.
But in “Drive,” Gosling and director Nicolas Winding Refn neatly manage the hat trick of paying homage to those wheelmen of yore while reinvigorating the genre with style, smarts and flashes of wit. You may still want to fasten your seat belts, but in these capable, seductive hands you’re in for a smooth, uncommonly assured ride . . . .
Refn, a Danish director whose previous films include “Bronson” and “Valhalla Rising,” is known for his love of blood, and when the plot of “Drive” quickens he finds plenty of chances to indulge in his penchant for lurid, stylized violence. But even his most fetishized flourishes are tempered here, not just with the tender love story between Irene and Driver but with Refn’s newfound restraint (one pivotal murderous episode occurs entirely in shadow).
After skillfully earning the audience’s allegiance, “Drive,” which is based on the novel by James Sallis, throws its hero’s motives into more troubling ambiguity, with Gosling’s grievous angel proving to be capable of startling brutality. Like the scorpion on his jacket, he can’t escape his nature, and Refn does a good job of keeping that core moral essence opaque until the explosive end. He’s also constructed a perfect showcase for Gosling’s hangdog charisma, which has come into its own this year first with “Crazy, Stupid, Love” and next with “The Ides of March.”