Leonard Cohen: Bird on a Wire
Palmer's film is that rare concert doc that isn't for established fans only.
The Driver drives for hire. He has no other name, and no other life. When we first see him, he's the wheelman for a getaway car, who runs from police pursuit not only by using sheer speed and muscle, but by coolly exploiting the street terrain and outsmarting his pursuers. By day, he is a stunt driver for action movies. The two jobs represent no conflict for him: He drives.
As played by Ryan Gosling, he is in the tradition of two iconic heroes of the 1960s: Clint Eastwood's Man With No Name and Alain Delon in "Le Samourai." He has no family, no history and seemingly few emotions. Whatever happened to him drove any personality deep beneath the surface. He is an existential hero, I suppose, defined entirely by his behavior.
That would qualify him as the hero of a mindless action picture, all CGI and crashes and mayhem. "Drive" is more of an elegant exercise in style, and its emotions may be hidden but they run deep. Sometimes a movie will make a greater impact by not trying too hard. The enigma of the driver is surrounded by a rich gallery of supporting actors who are clear about their hopes and fears, and who have either reached an accommodation with the Driver, or not. Here is still another illustration of the old Hollywood noir principle that a movie lives its life not through its hero, but within its shadows.
The Driver lives somewhere (somehow that's improbable, since we expect him to descend full-blown into the story). His neighbor is Irene, played by Carey Mulligan, that template of vulnerability. She has a young son, Benecio (Kaden Leos), who seems to stir the Driver's affection, although he isn't the effusive type. They grow warm, but in a week, her husband, Standard (Oscar Isaac), is released from prison. Against our expectations, Standard isn't jealous or hostile about the new neighbor, but sizes him up, sees a professional and quickly pitches a $1 million heist idea. That will provide the engine for the rest of the story, and as Irene and Benecio are endangered, the Driver reveals deep feelings and loyalties indeed, and undergoes enormous risk at little necessary benefit to himself.