A driving force
Once in a while, a spectacular piece of movie-making reminds us that films are capable of telling stories in a unique way. “Drive,” a 100-minute film that easily navigates a broad range of emotions – despite very limited dialog – delivers characters that reach into our guts. Their actions, coupled with the story arc, tell us who they are.
We see that being alone is as much a function of lifestyle as it is a circumstance. A man without distractions is free to live by rules of his own making, while a man strongly connected to others may need to discard such rules.
Our man alone is Driver, an otherwise unnamed character played by Ryan Gosling who fully inhabits the role.
Driver has developed extreme expertise in both driving and tweaking cars. By day he works as a mechanic and Hollywood stunt driver, by night, he works as a getaway driver.
Where his criminal activities are concerned, Driver makes all the rules. His getaways depend little on speed, relying on knowledge and timing. The robbers adhere to his schedule – period.
During a tense getaway that opens the film, he outmaneuvers both cop cars and air surveillance. He repeatedly evades squad cars using a police scanner, precise control of his vehicle and a perfectly memorized map of a 10-block square area that reveals where every bridge, cranny or parking garage is located.
The opening sequence tells us most of what we need to know about Driver. He deliberates, decides what he is and isn’t willing to do, then methodically follows a plan.
Driver doesn’t operate in a vacuum. His legit jobs funnel through Shannon (Bryan Cranston), a kindly, big-dreaming garage-owner who was injured as a young stunt driver, and sees in Driver the chance to regain his former glory.
Shannon bets everything on Driver’s abilities when he makes a deal with crime lords Bernie Rose (Albert Brooks) and Bernie’s partner Nino (Ron Perlman), to fund the purchase of a race car that will be piloted by Driver.
Meanwhile, Driver has moved to a new apartment where he meets Irene (Carey Mulligan), and her young son Benicio, the lonely family of an incarcerated man.
Over the course of two weeks, Driver develops strong feelings for the mother and son – and in turn, they love and depend upon him.
Driver, Irene and Shannon are nice people who could well turn their lives around if circumstances permit. The film, accompanied by a score that enhances the mood without overpowering the moment, is an emotional journey to a mysterious, unpredictable destination. It puts its characters through an obstacle course, as they attempt to understand forces seemingly beyond their control.
The viewer teeters in thrilling limbo, sweating every moment of wonder, or dread.
Adapted from a book by James Sallis, the tone and mood of “Drive” recalls other great movies that pit an isolated, imperfect protagonist, against dark forces. “Taxi Driver” and “The Conversation” come to mind. These films engage us intellectually, but draw the bulk of their power by hooking into our fondly held hopes and deepest fears. Go there – if you dare.