“Drive,” the 100 minute taut thriller from Danish born director Nicolas Winding Refn, (Bronson) is the first film he’s worked on that was based on a novel, and the first which he did not write the script for. Written for the screen by Hossein Amini, (Snow White and the Huntsman) based on the novel by James Sallis, the movie premiered at The Cannes Film Festival on May 20, 2011. The film features a retro style score by former Captain Beefheart and Red Hot Chili Peppers drummer Cliff Martinez, (Traffic), a hypnotic score that helps to capture the emotions being shown on screen. In addition, the cinematography from Newton Thomas Sigel (Leatherheads) establishes and sustains just the right tone throughout the movie.
The film stars Ryan Gosling (Crazy, Stupid, Love) who delivers a magnetic performance as the mysterious, quiet character known simply as ‘The Driver.’ During the course of the film’s runtime, viewers never get to learn anything about the character’s back story. The unnamed protagonist has three jobs, two of which, working as a Hollywood stunt driver for the movies and as a mechanic at a garage are legitimate, the other, as a getaway wheel man for hire, is not. As an aside, the original actor slated to play ‘The Driver’ was Hugh Jackman (X-Men). The Driver doesn’t carry a gun, and is a stickler for a five minute window of time in which he will wait for those that hire him, after that he’s gone; but as evidenced by a chase sequence that transpires several minutes into the movie, he’s worth whatever amount he is being paid.
Two men who have hired The Driver make their way into a warehouse. Time seems to stand still until finally, one of the men runs out of the building and gets into ‘The Driver’s car. His cohort is still inside. About a minute later the second man comes rushing out and hops into the vehicle; The Driver floors it and takes off. Gosling’s character deftly navigates his way past various factions of law enforcement, all the while listening to a police scanner so he can stay one step ahead of his pursuers, and that he does. He winds up leading the police to The Staples Center, just as a Los Angeles Clippers basketball game is letting out. He parks, gets out of the modified- for-speed, Chevy Impala he was driving, slips on a Clippers cap and walks out of the parking garage, blending in with the fans who attended the game.
After the intensity of the opening chase, he arrives home at his apartment building, and shares a quick ride on the elevator with Carey Mulligan (An Education). She portrays his neighbor Irene, whose child Benicio (Kaden Leos) takes a liking to The Driver, and the feeling is mutual. No sooner does he enter his apartment, he is off again. We catch up with him the next day on the set of a movie he’s working on. He is asked by the character of Shannon, portrayed by Bryan Cranston, (Breaking Bad) if he would mind doing a car flip for the director, for which he will be paid an additional five hundred dollars. Shannon not only gets Gosling’s character jobs in the movies and employs him at his auto body shop, but he also has greater financial ambitions when it comes to The Driver. After his day on the set is finished, The Driver makes his way to the grocery store; Irene is also there shopping with her son. Avoiding conversation with her, he pays for his items and leaves quickly, but while in the parking lot, he observes that Irene’s car won’t start. The Driver asks them if he can give them a ride back to the apartment building. Irene accepts. He takes her and her son home and even helps with the groceries. She asks him what he does for a living and he tells her about his legitimate work in the movies and at the garage. The relationship will continue to evolve from that point forward, albeit for a short period of time.
Cranston’s character sets up a meeting with former movie producer Bernie Rose. Albert Brooks, (Defending Your Life) who is cast in the role of Rose, he gives an effective performance where he definitely plays against type. Shannon wants Bernie to front him money in order to buy a stock car. His reasoning for this is that Shannon feels The Driver is a great investment who can’t loose and will wind up making them a ton of money on the stock car circuit. While they are talking, mob connected Nino, portrayed by Ron Perlman, (Sons of Anarchy) walks in and has a few disparaging words for Shannon.
The next day The Driver is working at the garage when Irene and Benicio arrive with Irene’s car in tow. Shannon makes up a story about how long it will take to work on Irene’s car, in order for The Driver to take her and the son home. Instead of heading straight back to the apartment complex, The Driver takes them on a ride through a Los Angles river basin and then to a pond where they skip rocks across the water. Over the course of the next several days, the three hang out together and grow closer, but the relationship remains plutonic between Mulligan and Gosling’s characters. Things might very well have progressed past that point, but Irene finds out that her husband, whose name is Standard, (Oscar Isaac) a man who has spent the past several years in jail, is being released. The following evening, there is a celebration for Standard in Irene’s apartment. The Driver finds Irene sitting in the hallway and a moment is shared between them, until Standard comes out of the apartment with Benicio to throw some trash away. The Driver and the husband exchange a few words, but no male posturing or admonitions of ‘stay away from my wife and son, I can take care of them now,’ takes place on the part of Standard. That would seemingly be the end of The Driver’s involvement with Irene, her son and the husband, but that is only the beginning.
The Driver witnesses two thugs walking away from Standard in the building’s parking garage. He discovers Standard on the ground. He has been badly beaten. Benicio is hiding a bit away from where his father is laying covered in blood; Standard tells Benicio not to let Irene know about the incident. The Driver takes them both upstairs.
The reasoning behind the assault is that when Standard was in prison he was given the offer to pay $2000 in order to receive protection from the other inmates. For each day that passes after he has been paroled that he has not come up with the initial principal, the amount of money he owes becomes exponentially higher and has now reached $20,000. In the garage, he was given the chance to square his debt with those that he owes by accepting a job to hold up a pawn shop. Standard, fearful of the prospect of going back to jail, refused to get involved. The Driver, although he doesn’t voice his opinion, could probably care less about Standard, but he most definitely cares for Irene and Benicio especially when Benicio gives the driver a bullet. The Driver asks the young child where he got the bullet from and he explains that the two men, who beat up his dad, gave it to him.
The Driver confronts the man who is extorting Standard; a guy who is named Cook played by James Biberi. He offers his services for the heist of the pawn shop, on the condition that once the job is finished, that Standard and his family are to be left alone, their debt having been repaid. Cook at first acts like a wise guy with the Driver, but concedes to his involvement, letting him know that there will be a third person along for the heist, Blanche, performed by Mad Men’s Christina Hendricks. She has a minimal amount of screen time, but even though her character’s role is a small one, it is also a pivotal one.
As I am sure you have already guessed the job goes according to plan at first, but quickly spirals out of control with Standard getting shot to death. During the few minutes of the heist a silver Chrysler that seems oddly out of place, pulls up and parks. After Standard is killed, the Driver speeds away, followed immediately by the Chrysler in a fantastic high speeds chase sequence. That is just the beginning of the driver’s problems. He learns, via the television news, while hiding out at a hotel with Blanche that the whole thing has been a set up. The news reporter states that according to the pawn shop owner, Standard acted alone and no money was stolen. The Driver from that moment on must now stay one step ahead of the mobsters who not only want their money, but his blood. The first confrontation between the mobster’s henchman and The Driver occurs moments later.
What will happen to Irene and Benicio? Will they have to pay the ultimate price with their lives for Standard’s involvement with the wrong people? How will ‘The Driver’ escape the clutches of the mobsters or will he escape? What will happen to Shannon, if ‘The Driver’ is no longer able to work for him, now that he has taken a loan from the local mob? And what happens to the characters that are portrayed by Albert Brooks and Ron Pearlman? They weren’t just written into the movie to be mere filler, were they? What path will their characters take toward the film’s climax? All of those questions and more will be answered if you get invested in the under two hours it takes to watch this thrilling film, that in this blogger’s opinion, is destined to become a cult classic.