Looking Back at 2010s Films: Drive (2011)

23 Nov

By Tanner Smith

Did you know some disgruntled movie patron tried to sue the filmmakers of “Drive” because it wasn’t what she expected it be?

No, I’m serious–she said it “bore very little similarity to a chase, or race action film … having very little driving in the motion picture”.

To be fair, the film’s trailer made audiences believe it was some type of typical action picture, when really, the film itself only had about two car chases, slow-building tension, atmospheric quiet moments, and some very, VERY violent sequences.

“Drive,” directed by arthouse aficionado Nicholas Winding Refn, won high honors at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival–I don’t think Cannes would even want to recognize your “typical action picture.” (There are exceptions, obviously–they did premiere “Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.”)

Ryan Gosling shines in the lead role, known only as The Driver. With minimal dialogue and hardly any background, everything we need to know about him is through his actions and his facial reactions (sometimes, not even that–mostly, his face is emotionless). What we catch onto is that he’s an anti-hero. He will get his hands dirty when he knows there’s a way out and if no one gets hurt (and if it pays well), but what he wants for the most part is a quiet life.

We see in the opening scene that he has things figured out pretty quickly. He’s a getaway driver for a robbery, which leads to the scene everyone remembers–the camera remains with the car as it escapes and is pursued by police, making for one of the most suspenseful car chases in film history.

That’s the scene movie-theater audiences remember because it’s exactly what they wanted. Then, “Drive” is going to give them something different.

Two things happen to the Driver that get the story going–one is he meets his neighbor Irene (Carey Mulligan) and her son Benicio; the other is he meets the mobster Bernie Rose (Albert Brooks), whom the Driver’s friend Shannon (Bryan Cranston) convinces to purchase a car for the Driver to race. The Driver doesn’t trust Rose, especially after finding out that he might have been connected with Shannon’s limp. When he’s with Irene and Benicio, his world is much brighter–he finally has companions; people in his life. But now, Irene’s husband Standard (Oscar Isaac) is being released from prison, and the Driver’s world starts to unravel. Standard gets attacked by some criminals who want him to pull off a new heist. The Driver agrees to help in order to protect him, Irene, and Benicio. But something goes terribly wrong, which results in the Driver’s descent into darkness…

The Driver knows he tends to do some bad things–nowhere is that clearer than in a scene in which he watches TV with Benicio and asks if a cartoon shark is “a bad guy.” Benicio says yes, because he’s a shark. “Aren’t there any good sharks?” the Driver asks. He wants to be a good guy, but he knows he hasn’t done much to declare himself in that regard. And when things go from bad to worse, he snaps and does some very, VERY nasty things towards his antagonists.

All of this is told with great directing from Refn, subtle understated acting from Gosling, and a great deal of atmosphere. Admittedly, as a movie theater patron, I was perplexed. But as a film lover, I was fascinated. And it took just one more viewing for me to declare “Drive” as something special.

Oh, and the soundtrack? Fantastic. “Nightcall,” “Under Your Spell,” and especially “A Real Hero”–all of these techno songs add to the style and grit “Drive” is going for. (I work at a theater where the “Drive” soundtrack often plays over the stereo–my attention is always drawn to it when I should be getting back to work!)

One Response to “Looking Back at 2010s Films: Drive (2011)”


  1. Prepping for My Top 20 Films of the 2010s | Smith's Verdict - November 26, 2019

    […] Trace,” “Room,” “Joker,” “Cop Car,” “Buried,” “Drive,” “Lean on Pete,” “Winter’s Bone,” “Wildlife,” “Blue […]

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