At the end of the film Michael Clayton, just after George Clooney‘s Michael Clayton character has gotten Tilda Swinton‘s character to make a statement, with the police eavesdropping, that would get her and her boss played by Ken Howard, sent to prison, Clayton leaves the building. Upon hitting the street, he hails a taxi cab. He climbs in, shuts the door and says nothing. We then get this exchange:
Taxi Driver: So what are we doing?
Michael Clayton (peeling off some bills and handing them to the unseen driver): Give me $50 worth. Just Drive….
Just Drive. Haven’t we heard that so many times before? We’ve had films about taxi drivers, and race car drivers. We’ve had actors whom we may not have been familiar with at the time of the film, who went on to become well known actors. Case in point – Robert Duvall as the cabbie who drove Steve McQueen‘s Detective Frank Bullitt around back in 1968. We’ve had car thieves like Nicholas Cage in Gone in 60 Seconds, and we’ve had untold, unnamed, and uncountable faceless wheel men who drove the getaway cars in a zillion criminal ventures that happened on screen. We’ve had a film about a chauffeur (Morgan Freeman inDriving Miss Daisy). To make a long story short – we’ve had men, and women, driving something on screen, since there were films and since motorized vehicles like cars, boats, or even planes and trains started to show up in the movies.
Now we have a film called Drive. Ryan Gosling has the role of the Driver. We never do get his actual name. He does stunt driving for the movies, works as a mechanic, and on the side he drives getaway cars in heists. He has no back-story. We know nothing about him other than that he’s cool, calm, and studies maps of LA every day, the same way we read a newspaper on a regular basis.
The film opens with a heist, and our Driver has already told us and the guys he’s driving for his rules:
If I drive for you, you give me a time and a place. I give you a five-minute window, anything happens in that five minutes and I’m yours no matter what. I don’t sit in while you’re running it down; I don’t carry a gun… I drive.
There we are once more. He just drives. He has a police radio scanner, so he can hear what the police are doing. So right away we need him to show his stuff. Only as the scene plays out, we can see that it is different – it is more of a cat and a mouse, than chase and race. The driver outsmarts the cops by hiding in alleys, garages, and even under an elevated highway to avoid detection by the eyes in the skies, ie – the police choppers.
So we know straightaway – he’s good at what he does – he adjusts on the fly – and he’s smart.
Later we will see some higher intensity auto chases. But what really escalates in the second half of the film is the man to man violence. I’ll give you a verbal shortcut here rather than describing said violence. This is not a film for the squeamish.
Directed by the Danish helmsman Nicolas Winding Refn, Drive is set up as action film, and for sure it has action, and bloodshed, and villains galore. But what it has, and in spades, is Style; yes that’s right – style with a capital ‘S’. Refn is at once unique and yet you do notice, or at least consider, that the film may have borrowed from some notable film icons –
Gosling’s driver is kind of an Eastwood-esque man with no name. Strong, silent (speaks only when asked a direct question). He not invincible by any means, and definitely not heroic – but he is interested in doing the right thing, and he’s tough as nails and fearless. But to distinguish himself as not being an ‘eastwood character’, Gosling avoids the squint and the gravelly voice.
You might also see this film as being something along the lines of being Scorsese-lite. What I mean by that is you’ve got the minor Martin Scorsese strokes, but none of the grand flourishes.
At the same time – you might be reminded of Michael Mann’s Heat. Only without the gun-play. Maybe it was the music and or the sound track which seemed to heighten the tension.
But despite Gosling getting the majority of the screen time – there’s a terrific supporting cast around him. Bryan Cranston plays Shannon, who is at once the Driver’s employer, agent, and source for automobiles. Shannon is an awful man when all is said and done – but Cranston plays him wonderfully.
Ron Perlman plays Nino – he owns a pizza shop, but he’s not an Italian, despite coming off as one. He may look like a goombah, complete with snarls and growls, but beneath that track-suited Bensonhurst facade, he is simply a vicious Jewish gangster . His partner is Bernie Rose played by comedian and comic Albert Brooks. Be warned, Brooks’ character isn’t about being funny. He just might achieve a niche as one the most terrifying gangsters ever in this film. His portrayal of Bernie Rose is downright scary.
In the image below, Bernie is telling The Driver: “Any dreams you have, or plans for your future – I think you’re going to have to put that on hold. For the rest of your life, you’re going to be looking over your shoulder”
We have two women of note. Carey Mulligan plays the Driver’s neighbor and love interest. She really doesn’t have many speaking lines –
her role is mostly to convey vulnerability, fear, and anger and all of it is done superbly without her saying a whole lot.
Christina Hendricks plays a woman involved in a heist. She and the Driver have to go on the run after a heist went south. As the heist goes down – and it is off screen – we know nothing about her.
But she and The Driver have a bag of evil money that others will kill to recover. By the time the film ends we will know all about what she’s made of.
I think Drive is both fresh and familiar. It is seriously more of a visual piece of film action than a film driven by its plot. The story or plot isn’t new either, but has enough strength to support the story. In that sense, this film was made by a European, and it had a decidedly Euro flavor to it despite its totally So-Cal setting and it’s American cast. I think this film is a ‘must see’.