The financiers of Drive must have absolutely shit themselves when they saw the finished film. Here was a project that began life as a Hugh Jackman action/adventure vehicle in the vein of the Fast and Furious series, and what it became, arguably, was an art film. A film where the first 40 minutes are filled with so little dialogue, were it not for the music (which is AMAZING, by the way) one could easily forget they were watching a “talkey”. An action film where there are only two relatively brief chase scenes with which it could justify its title, and in place of choreographed fight sequences, existed only punctuation marks of far-beyond-brutal violence. A film hanging not on the rugged Australian shoulders of bankable action star Jackman, but of a former teen heartthrob (Ryan Gosling) whose greatest commercial success was the Nicholas Sparks adaptation/120-minute yawn, The Notebook. Their only consolation must have been that they’d only sunk about $13 million into this thing (that’s peanuts in Hollywood money). What they thought was going to happen when they hired director Nicolas Refn (the Pusher trilogy, Bronson), a Danish filmmaker who had never made a mainstream American picture in his life and whose films tend to tackle subject matter of a transgressive nature, will forever be beyond me. But the distributors of Drive refused to let go of their dream of standard action fare, and marketed it as such in one of the most misleading promotional campaigns in filmmaking history. So much so, a Michigan woman is actually suing for false advertisement, which, while paint-huffingly idiotic, illustrates their folly pretty clearly. What is likely lost on this microcosm of bean counters and ad execs is that, while Drive did not turn out to be the cinematic junk food guaranteed to put mouth breathers in the seats and god-like amounts of money in studios pockets, it is, without a doubt, one of the closest this last half-decade has come to producing a flawless film.
As Drive is, at its core, an atmospheric character study, what plot there is fairly simple. It’s protagonist, simply known as, get this, the Driver (mind blown??), is a small-time mechanic and stuntman by day, getaway driver by night. The same preternatural skill and calm that makes the Driver great at evading police cruisers also makes for an excellent stockcar racer, leading his boss Shannon (Breaking Bad‘s Bryan Cranston) to petition mobster Bernie (Albert Brooks, of Simpsons and Finding Nemo Fame) for the funds to purchase a car for a joint venture, in the hopes of turning the Driver into a NASCAR star. Bernie acquiesces, to the amusement of his partner, the crude and vicious Nino (Ron Pearlman, who needs no introduction). Meanwhile, the Driver, a quiet recluse by nature, befriends a neighbor, Irene (Carey Mulligan), and her son (Kaden Leos), striking up something of romance and becoming a father figure to the boy. However, this is not to be; Irene is married, and her husband, Standard (television actor James Biberi) soon returns from a stint in prison, ready to pick up life with his family. The Driver learns that Standard owes money to a local crime figure, putting not only his life, but his wife and their son’s, in danger. Agreeing to assist his romantic rival for the sake of Irene and her child, the Driver prepares to play wheelman for a pawn shop robbery that will help Standard square his debts. Thus the stage is set for things to go from wrong to more wrong to just absolutely fucked beyond any and all repair for our hero, as anyone familiar with Refn’s filmography knew they would.