Ryan Gosling did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying the Driver in Drive.
At the beginning of the film he is the driver for some random criminals, and Gosling is simply astonishing in this scene. He is absolutely in the zone here showing that when the Driver is driving he is absolutely in control. Gosling here says nothing at all it is all in his face, and he is amazing in the way he conveys the absolute conviction in the Driver's eyes as he tries out maneuver the police. There is not hesitation shown by Gosling every movement is precise, and there is not a hint of fear in his eyes. When he is driving Gosling shows the Driver almost as one with the car in his abilities. When he is in the car he is in the world that he completely understands.
We see a very different man after his initial successful getaway. Gosling shows a very different individual when he is not behind the wheel as he approach as woman Irene (Carey Mulligan) who has a son, and a husband in prison. Gosling shows that the man completely in power when behind the wheel, but when out of it he shows a man far less sure of himself. It is not that he is pathetic or anything like that, but Gosling shows the driver to really be rather shy and reluctant in normal affairs. He really is not even able to approach the woman without help form someone else as Gosling portrays the Driver as a man never to purposefully put his first foot forward.
When he does finally actually strike up a relationship with the woman and her son, Gosling still must portray the Driver in the manner of glances rather than in words. Drive could be argued as the film based on the direction of Nicolas Wending Refn, but it never feels as a soley directors picture, as the actors always are able to thrive well even in scenes with a clear stamp of the director. For example his first scene where he drives Irene around both he and Mulligan only really share glances, but Gosling is terrific in showing the genuine enchantment the driver seems to have with her. It is a very unique relationship as Gosling portrays this as driver's first love that really explains how it moves him as much as it does.
Of course the good times do not last long for the Driver as he is forced to do any getaway drive to help Irene's husband make up a debt with the mob, but all goes horribly and the Driver is forced to fight his way out of the situation. Gosling is particularly effective in the very first scene where he has to commit violence against people. It is harsh and brutal violence that the Driver participates in to save himself, but Gosling is incredible in realizing both the veracity of what the Driver is capable of as well though in just his face the extent that the violence does leave him stunned. Gosling shows that the Driver is a man completely capable of the violence he must commit to save himself, but he still brings to life the very real trauma of the situation.
This whole performance is about the subtle movements, and glares that Gosling gives. A performance with as few words as this easily could have been ineffective, but Gosling is able to convey all he needs with the little he is given. Gosling is simply fascinating in so many scenes where a simple gesture can mean so much. He never fails once to bring to life the quick moments so fully to life. One particular stunning scene where Refn's direction and Gosling's performance work in perfect harmony takes place in a elevator late in the film. Gosling maneuvers through the scene perfectly making the moment that begins of complete beauty, to complete brutality. Gosling never loses a step in his depiction of the Driver bringing about the existential quality of the Driver without fault.
It should be noted as well that when he does speak though, a word is never wasted. In the moments in which the driver must face down another Gosling is truly intense. Gosling simply expresses a certain almost silent cool though, that makes the Driver a fascinating character to follow through his journey. Of course the very history of the Driver is never told, but not for a moment does Gosling's characterization seem to simplistic. He is able to convey that this man has come from some where very particular, and he says enough of the Driver's past without really ever saying anything about. It is a truly effective performance from Gosling through doing so much with so little. There is not a single moment where Gosling is not simply fascinating in his memorable and very unique performance here.