A Hollywood stunt driver (Gosling) strikes up a friendship with his neighbor, Irene (Mulligan), with whom he shares an immediate chemistry, but soon learns she is married. Her husband is in prison and will be home in the next few weeks.
In the meantime, the Driver acts as a caretaker for Irene and her young son, not pretending to deny the elephant in the room.
By day the Driver works on Hollywood sets and in a nearby garage; by night he drives getaway cars but somehow manages to keep his hands clean of the crimes ... until Irene's husband comes home.
Standard (Oscar Isaac) owes a debt to some folks from his prison days. He wants to lead a crime-free life, but fears what may happen to his family if he doesn't make good on the promise. He mentions his predicament to the Driver, who agrees to help him purely to keep Irene and her son safe.
When the robbery spirals out of control (featuring an electric cameo from Mad Men's Christina Hendricks), the Driver finds himself guilty of more than driving, and in the worst danger of his life.
Ryan Gosling plays the main character with a controlled chaos that's fastly becoming his trademark. You can see by the look in his eyes he'll do anything for this woman, yet he's a man of few words. Only the Johnny Depps and Leo Dicaprios of the world could've played this part as well.
The directing is also phenomenal—a battle is acted out in shadows; flashes of light build tension after a crash and nothing is as scary as the glimpse we get of a bad guy through the bathroom blinds.
All of this is intensified by a perfect musical score. The sounds that accompany the actions add to instead of subtract from the action, and there's plenty of it.
I could've done without much of the blood and gore, but none of it was gratuitous. In fact, it was probably all the more shocking because it was completely believable.
Easily one of the best films of 2011.