I watched this with a pal the other night.
Ultimately I enjoyed it and even loved what it was attempting to do. I appreciate the pace, and also the subtlety in many of it's moments. The first heist being a great example, where the camera keeps you in the car with them, hearing just the realistic sounds of the engine form an interior perspective. It was so nice to see the director forgo the standard exterior, swooping camera shots and pounding music for a car chase. So my immediate thoughts were "Thank you...ok...you've got me for now..."
I also enjoyed the soundtrack and overall retro-80's vibe. Hey...why not? It's fun, and something different, another odd quirk (and I'm a soundtrack junkie, so I welcome quirky soundtracks).
I thought it was a fairly compelling plot as well, actually more plot than I was expecting in terms of twists and turns, and turning the screws tighter on the Driver.
That said I'd cite some of the same problems that others have, that stopped this film from being truly killer. One was the too-deliberate sounding minimilism with the dialogue, particularly between the driver and Irene.
It was a combo of Gosling's blank-slate performance, the editing and the script. The pauses didn't seem full of unspoken emotion, so much as it was like watching people who had forgotten how to speak. My pal shouted "SAY SOMETHING!" more than once at the screen.
The other is of course Gosling's performance. It didn't quite work for reasons Josh and others have cited. Because there was nothing going on behind Gosling's stare most of the time, the lack of dialogue, the stares-instead-of-words, because painful. Instead of a feeling of depth to the character, it more typically inspired a sense of impatience, because there was nothing going on in those spaces.
Now, I don't think Gosling's performance was a total failure. They guy does have some natural charisma. And sometimes his lack of reaction could add a sense of intrigue, given how uncharacteristic such "cool" or blank reactions are from someone encountering various stressful conditions. For instance, his demeanor DID really work for me during the first robbery get away. I WAS trying to figure out what he was doing and thinking and had to admire his cool-under-pressure. That was also the case in some other scenes. But it was unfortunately balanced by the times when his performance sucked some depth or interest out of what was going on.
If Gosling had nailed it, if the driver had a Steve McQueen type charisma that kept an intriguing energy buzzing in the silences, then this film could have been something of a minor classic, a little "perfect film" in terms of giving us an adult-paced, quirky thriller and character study.
As it is, it was close enough that I found myself appreciative of it's efforts, and enjoyed myself.