I’m a Ryan Gosling fan. I’m also a huge fan of Walter Hill’s 1978 classic The Driver. So needless to say, I was pretty excited about Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive. Gosling stars as an unnamed stunt car driver who also moonlight as a wheelman in heists. He’s calm, collected and very good at what he does. When he’s not driving, he works as a mechanic in an auto shop owned by Shannon (Bryan Cranston) who’s past involvement with some nasty gangsters have left him crippled. Then of course, there’s the girl next door Irene (Carey Mulligan) who’s a single mother trying to take care of her son while waiting for her husband to be release from prison. And to cap it all off, throw in Ron Pearlman and Albert Brooks as a couple of heavies looking to make it big and Christina Hendricks as a moll and you essentially have a crime thriller reminiscent of films like To Live and Die in LA, Thief and A Moment of Romance. The story here isn’t anything new, charismatic loner smitten by girl next door and gets mixed up with some really really bad people. Refn is aware of the generic nature of the script and does the smart thing by casting great actors to elevate the material. For the most part, the performances in the film are good enough to make you forget about the flimsy story. Gosling isn’t given many lines but still manages to be fascinating onscreen. He’s incredibly introverted but through his deadpan demeanour you can sense that he’s harbouring a deadly rage that could erupt anytime. Carey Mulligan is Carey Mulligan, sweet and winsome but terribly underused. Ditto with the indomitable Bryan Cranston. Albert Brooks has been garnering a lot of buzz with his menacing portrayal of gangster Bernie Rose. It’s a showy part and Brooks has fun with it but I just felt like it was a little two dimensional. And that’s kind of the prevailing feeling I had with the film as a whole. On the surface, Drive is dripping with style and is even gripping at certain points. It’s chock full of solid actors, great cinematography and even has a moody synth score. So what’s there not to like? First of all, it lacks ambition. It’s so nostalgic for the crime thrillers of the 80s and 90s that it doesn’t really try to be its own thing. Another flaw of the film is that it wastes its incredible cast by not giving them enough to do. Poor Christina Hendricks gets billing on the poster but is barely onscreen for more than 5 minutes. Lastly, I don’t know if this point comes across in the trailer but Drive is unbelievably violent. This normally wouldn’t be such a problem if the first half of the film wasn’t so subdued and realistic. Watching the quieter moments between Gosling and Mulligan and then cut to a thug getting his face repeatedly stomped on until it craves in on itself is a jarring transition and makes you feel as if you’re watching two different films. Considering the tremendous amount of talent involved, Drive should have been a lot better. It could have been a film that reinvented the crime genre but instead, it’s content on just being cool.