Drive (Nicolas Winding Refn, 2011)


Drive, directed by Nicolas Winding Refn (2011).

Score: not surprising.

Drive tells the story of an unnamed stunt driver (Ryan Gosling) who sometimes does some getaway driving on the side. He also works as a car mechanic with a man named Shannon (Bryan Cranston) who mingles with mobsters Rose (Albert Brooks) and Nino (Ron Perlman) because he wants money to restore a racecar for the main character to drive. The Driver starts a romance with his neighbour Irene (Carey Mulligan) and adores her little son Benicio (Kaden Leos), but everything goes south when Irene’s husband Standard (Oscar Isaac) comes out of jail earlier than expected.

The first half of the movie is pretty slow and atmospheric. It can get boring at times. There are just sequences of driving around under the streetlamps, the Driver playing with Benicio, Irene staring longingly at the Driver. I was getting really annoyed at the character. Why does he care? Why do I have to care? What are his motivations? The movie would work much better if it was his wife and his kid, he would have a reason to care then. He has no reason to care about a kid that’s not his, this is making the script more complicated just because. But then, halfway in, it dawned on me.


The elevator scene put everything under a new perspective. The Driver is no one. He’s a spectre. He risks his life for stunts that probably won’t be in the finished movie. He doesn’t have a life, hobbies or furniture at home. He’s interested not only in Irene, but in the whole life Standard left behind. He wants to slip in his home and occupy his place. That’s why he doesn’t back off when Standard comes back: witnessing their home life still makes the Driver feel he’s part of something. And that’s why he pushes Standard into accepting the deal: he’s actually helping himself. Little by little, he transforms into his own version of Standard, someone he thinks Irene might like. What he doesn’t realize is that she’s horrified at what happens in the elevator.

Concurrently, the Driver goes from being the stuntman to being the action hero of his own life. He doesn’t even care about the money, he leaves it behind even when he’s the only man left standing. It’s about coming of age, about fulfilling a power fantasy. Someone who’s great at getaways and make-believe decides he wants to be the real thing.

Much is told but little is said in this movie. You have to look out for the signs. Rose refuses to shake Shannon’s hand in the beginning. This is mirrored in the scene where Rose shakes Shannon’s hand and then cuts his arm: the handshake was a poisoned gift. The Driver alludes to the fable of the frog and the scorpion, when he have seen a scorpion on his back for the whole movie.


As a crime movie, there’s not much that is new about it. The most interesting thing about it is the unconventional psychology and arc of the main character. Worth a watch.

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