Out of a house in the L.A. hills, director Nicolas Winding Refn and screenwriter Hossein Amini, produced, cut, and auditioned for a movie about a stunt driver who moonlights as a getaway driver. Driving for criminals, he struggles to salvage the life he never knew he wanted. Having read the Grimm’s tales to his daughter, Director Refn, pulled the original script apart and refocused it. This new focus became the innocence of love and the length we may go to protect it…but naturally, it has a Grimm, Refn-esque twist.
Drive follows the story of an unnamed and mysterious Driver (Ryan Gosling), who, having met Irene (Carey Mulligan) and her younger son Benicio (Kaden Leos), sees an opportunity for a different life. When Irene’s husband (Oscar Isaac) is released from jail and threatened by old connections, Driver offers his help. The story unfolds from there into a noir crime thriller accompanied by a breath-taking soundtrack. Cliff Martinez and Matthew Newman help to sculpt a nostalgic 80’s synth-pop soundscapes that breathes cool into these gripping scenes.
Drive asks the question we all have: Are we in control of our own destiny? Are we inherently good or bad?
Driver: ‘Is he a bad guy?’
Driver: ‘How can you tell?’
Benicio: ‘Because…he’s a shark’
Driver: ‘There are no good sharks?’
(Scene with Driver and Benicio watching a cartoon together)
Driver is our mysterious hero emerging from the L.A. backdrop to protect the innocent in a world full of villains. His mysterious background and lack of dialogue really make you fear him, while his actions romanticize his character; we begin to sympathize with his wants and the very real struggles he goes through.
Steeped in a beautifully shot noir tone (Cinematography – Newton Thomas Sigel) and accompanied by a stylistic electronic soundtrack, Drive balances silence and limited dialogue with kinetic visuals and superb subtext. In these moments of silence come the most powerful notes of the movie, which create the melody, and flow of the film. As a result, the relationship between Driver and Irene focuses on powerful and meaningful glances. While these scenes lack dialogue, they certainly don’t lack chemistry or significance. This is why the director describes the movie as an audio-visual presentation: Drives prominent use of silence and visuals to emote feeling is key to the pay-offs in dialogue and sound; as such, we hang on to every note and syllable uttered.
In addition, the notable visual and lighting decisions made to the Driver and his scorpion jacket illustrate this concept of visual representation further (Renegade Cut gives a fantastic breakdown of the visual representations in Drive). By day, Driver is camera facing, in neutral normal clothing but by night, he’s shown from behind, drenched in shadow, donning the Scorpion jacket. We see less of the jacket as Driver gets to know Irene but it returns when Gabriel (Irene’s husband) returns. Driver comes to the realization that he may have to settle for his life of crime. Can Driver really change his true nature? On some level, he believes he can change but there is still uncertainty in his body language; the rabbit foot on his key-chain also symbolizing this inner conflict.
Moving away from scorpions and rabbit feet to touch on sound briefly – let’s talk about that soundtrack! Whether sound is utilised or absent, it is done to progress the story forward, to add to a scene or highlight something to the viewer; it can complement the stunning visuals or elevate the scene to its crescendo. Drive opens with the song: ‘Nightcall’ by Kavinsky and Lovefoxxx, which sets the mood and tonality of the film going forward. Drive proceeds by building on these foundations, creating tension and suspense to points of pure cinematic brilliance. In Drive, the peak for me was during a very tense getaway and pre-gateaway scene and later on, during the Driver’s swan song: ‘Be a real Hero’ by College & Electric Youth. Of note in these scenes is the different use of sound. We move from on edge, to shocked, to sympathy in a matter of scenes. As a viewer, I felt truly engrossed in the moment, feeling the real sense of urgency facing our characters and in the latter scene, a sense of solace but peace.
Drive has you gripped from the moment you set eyes on its L.A. noir landscape and hear its 80s synth-pop homage; I cannot recommend this movie or its soundtrack enough if thrillers are your film of choice.
Hopefully this has you interested in experiencing Drive for yourself! If like me, you’ve seen Drive and wanted to know more about our mysterious Drive character, fear not! The book on which the screenplay is based provides ample back-story into this character and much more. Check out the original story: ‘Drive’ by author, James Sallis and his sequel to it, ‘Driven’.
Go grab your leather gloves, sport your Scorpion jacket… get out there and be a real hero.