The nameless hero drives, that’s all he does. He works part time as a stunt driver for the movies, works in a garage, and moonlights as a getaway driver for thieves willing to play by his rules. He lives in near complete solitude until he decides to help his neighbor Irene and her young son when their car breaks down. Based on the novel Drive by James Sallis, the movie is as sparse and to the point as its source material.
This is not a smack talking, big action Hollywood flick. If you go into this expecting glitzy camera moves and gigantic explosions, you’re setting yourself up for a let down. This is a straight forward film telling a simple story, but the way it’s told oozes excess style in its wake. The pace is tense but never ponderous, each scene pulling more than double duty to move the story and show who the characters are and their relationships with each other. Our hero, referred to only as “kid” or “the driver,” is enigmatic to a fault. He doesn’t say much, his movements are calm and collected, and as you watch him interact with other characters in the film, you get the distinct impression that he was always this way. The chase scenes are as sparse as the dialogue, beautiful in their simplicity and a direct, no-nonsense reflection on the characterization of the entire film.
The crux of the story centers on the hero’s relationship with his neighbor Irene and her young son. The chemistry between them evolves naturally, and when Irene’s husband comes back into the picture and both the hero and Irene realize nothing can come of their relationship, the sadness is palpable. Rather than trying to steal Irene away or drive a rift between her and her husband, the hero tries to help make her life better by aiding her husband with a little problem left over from his time spent in prison. Irene’s husband owes money to some men he paid for protection while in jail, but now they’ve decided they want far more than the amount originally agreed on. If he can’t pay it they’ll kill Irene and his son. The hero offers to be his wheelman in the robbery of a pawn shop, which is proposed to be holding a very large sum of money, but the heist goes wrong.
The internet is aflame with harsh criticism for the brutal violence in the latter half of the film, and so I feel a fair warning is due to those of you who wilt in the face of spurting blood and grey matter. There is violence and it is graphic. Like everything else in the film, I feel the violence is justified and satisfying. It punctuates through the long silences and the tension emphasizing one person’s ability to be vicious toward another. It’s not a gratuitous horror bloodbath where everything is premeditated. That said, the decisions the hero makes in the latter half of the film far outweigh the violence. If you’re too preoccupied with the violence, you’re going to miss some really great anti-hero scenes. The only part that bothered me was the end. I really wanted a happy ending, but the more I think about it, the ending it got was the only truly happy ending the story could have.
Overlying the entire film is a retro inspired soundtrack that sounds like all the best parts of the 80s making delicious sweaty love to all the best parts of modern electronic and dance. It fits so well I can’t imagine the film with any other soundtrack. It wouldn’t be the same. So don’t let the girly font fool you, there’s nothing girly about this flick and if you’re looking for a criminal thriller a few awesome steps above the usual Hollywood’s drek, definitely give Drive a shot. Be warned, you may find yourself compulsively chewing on toothpicks and hunting for a white jacket with a golden scorpion when you exit the theater.