Drive is a mainstream art house movie. Or maybe that's an art house mainstream movie? Either way the reason that a lot of people won't like it is because it's not really for the mainstream audience but it is being marketed as though it was.
Ryan Gosling plays a laconic mechanic / movie stunt driver who occassionally lends his services as a robbery getaway driver. He also has compassion, a mean streak and the ability to sacrifice himself for the right reasons, which often makes for a good movie character. He has no name in the movie but at one point he identifies himself as a shark [are there good sharks?] and a scorpion [a scorpion is emblazoned on his jacket]. Yet his nature is not threatening so much as just focused and intense.
If you combine the movies Le Samurai by John Pierre Melville and The Driver by Walter Hill and maybe Bullitt by Peter Yates then you'll get an idea of what Drive is like and what it is about. With a particularly stronger attachment aesthetically to Le Samurai.
Both Drive and Le Samurai take an American ideal genre - the crime film or film noir [not a genre] - and turn it on its head by slowing it down and giving it something contemplative and intellectual while still maintaining a modicum of Hollywood.
Overall, I think Drive does exactly what the director (Nicolas Winding Refn) and writer (Hossein Amini) want it to do. But the question is do they succeed? I would say yes and no. What works in the movie is the overall mood as well as the build up to the [inevitable] violence. What doesn't necessarily work is the development of the characters as well as the development of the relationship between the driver (Ryan Goslin) and the young woman (Carey Mulligan).
The director / writer essentially give us interesting archetypal characters that are not necessarily mainstream but are also not necessarily well-developed. The movie is also perhaps a bit too consciously clever of itself. Part of the problem is that in slowing the movie down Refn lets the audience think about each scene a little too much and in most crime films if the audience has time to stop and think about it they will find reasons to question what they are watching. With Drive this is particularly true early on when the movie has a lot of awkward pauses and moments of silence.
However, the pacing is not a bad thing. In fact, it is rather hypnotic to the point that if you get into the rhythm of the movie [which may also remind some of Michael Mann's Collateral] then you will overlook all the shortcomings as you gear up for the second half as the tension builds and the violence comes.
Overall, it is a rather effective movie; Especially in the second half when the pace picks up and the narrative focus becomes a little stronger as well as more dramatic and bloody. The movie goes exactly where is should go - if you think about it. And that's one reason to recommend it since it is essentially a formulaic film - albeit with art house street cred but mainstream aspirations.