Prepare yourself for a little shameless Ryan Gosling blather.
It's shallow, I realize, that gazing at Ryan Gosling was the driving (hah) motivation to watch this movie. But he IS a good actor, so there's that. And I did hear that the movie received a standing ovation at Cannes, and the director won the Best Director award. It was also based on a book by James Sallis! I know, I'm justifying.
The movie has been classified as "neo noire crime thriller", and that sounds as good as anything. I'd classify it as "riveting, and subtle when its not ultra-violent", and I know that doesn't make much sense, but it was just that kind of movie.
So the object of our affection, named only "Driver", holds down several jobs. He is a mechanic, he is a stunt driver, he races cars. And because his body shop employer rubs elbows with the mob, he is also a driver-for-hire for criminals needing a slick, quick getaway from a robbery.
Driver is a man of few words. He approaches an oil change, rolling a car for an action scene, or racing through the city streets at 120 mph to avoid the police all with a stony-faced calm. Smoooooth, baby. Then he meets his beautiful neighbor (Carey Mulligan), a young mother whose husband is in prison. And he falls in love.
When the husband is released from the can and comes home, Driver accepts his fate as man #2, but his love runs deep. So much that when he learns that the husband must do "one more job" in order to get goons off his back and protect his family, he offers to help. That is when things go awry, as one might imagine (because there never is just "one more job") and blood/brains/viscera is shed. If you ever wanted to know what it sounds like when a head is stomped on? Here is your chance.
Woven into this messy love triangle story is a fable about a scorpion and a frog. You can draw analogies, sit around and drink wine and analyze all the parallels and hints and clues. But at its core, it is just good film. There is tension throughout, even when there isn't shooting and bashing. Gosling is simply magnetic on screen, and is such a pleasure to watch.
While Gosling was the main attraction (for me at least), the casting of all the other supporting characters was top-notch. Carey Mulligan is cute and OK, we can buy the fact that Gosling might fall for her. We have Ron Perlman and Albert Brooks...as goons! Really bad goons! Which was fun. Who would have thought that bumbling, goofy Brooks had it in him? There was a lot of chatter about the casting of Christina Hendricks (the hot red-headed TV actress mostly known for Mad Men) as a female goon, and that she didn't get a whole lot of air time. But the time she had was well-spent.
We did kinda scratch our heads at the ending, which was...vague. I had to do a little searching online to make sure we got it right. It might be unsatisfying to those who like things wrapped up neatly.
My final barometer of a movie is if my husband stays awake for the whole thing without being poked by me. He was wide-eyed throughout this one, which is an excellent sign.