Gosling plays an anonymous stunt driver for Hollywood, who moonlights as a heist driver. One day, he meets his down the hall neighbor, Irene, played by Carrey Mulligan, and her little boy Benicio (Kaden Leos). He quickly seems to fall in love with Irene, who he spends some time with, very innocently, before learning that her husband, Standard (Oscar Isaac), is being released from prison. When Standard is beaten by some people he owes money too, Gosling's driver offers to help Standard with a pawn shop heist that the thugs want him to pull to pay them back. When the robbery goes wrong, however, leaving Standard dead, it puts everyone in the driver's life in danger, while he seeks vengeance from those who set him up.
Refn's films (or the one's I've seen so far) seem to lean towards the stylized, and Drive is no different. It's obvious that Refn is drawing heavily from late 70's and, especially 80's cinema, with his anti-music video style editing and electro-pop soundtrack. Drive feels like it could have been made by Michael Mann, circa Miami Vice or Manhunter. Gosling is in top notch acting form. He barely say's anything throughout the entire film, yet manages to convey an endless array of emotions via his face, a trait, I think, is generally only shared by some of the best actors. For someone to carry a whole movie, and barely speak, that's talent. Carrey Mulligan is the same, though, like pretty much all of the other characters, she is in a relatively small amount of the film.
In fact, that was probably the most surprising thing about Drive was how all of the other characters come off as secondary, and their importance, at times, seems diminished because of lack of screen time, even though characters like Irene and Bernie Rose (a gangster played by Albert Brooks in a very interesting casting choice by Refn), are absolutely crucial to the film. Drive really is about Gosling's driver. The entire film is about this one moment in HIS life, and Refn seems to want to make sure that we are not cluttered with back story or parallel action. There are very few scenes without Gosling, and only enough to push the plot forward. A risk taken on Refn's part, I think, but one I think he succeeded at, because, as an audience member, I was with the driver all the way. I was the driver.