If I drive for you, you give me a time and a place. I give you a five-minute window, anything happens in that five minutes and I’m yours no matter what. I don’t sit in while you’re running it down; I don’t carry a gun… I drive.
The actors: Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan, Albert Brooks, Ron Perlman, plus others. The actor who plays Gosling’s mentor, Bryan Cranston, looks familiar but I didn’t know his name until I looked the film up at IMBd.
The plot: Gosling’s character, who has no given name and is listed merely as “Driver” in the credits, is exactly what his label says. He drives. Stunt cars, getaway cars for robberies. His own Chevelle (I think) for hours on LA’s highways. When he isn’t driving cars, he’s working on them.
He meets Mulligan’s character, Irene, and her little boy, Benecio. Is he attracted to her? It seems so, although he never articulates it and seems to have a more intuitive connection with Benecio. Whatever might develop is cut off when Irene’s husband, Standard, is released from prison. Standard seems defensive at first about this guy encroaching on his territory, but seems to recognize Driver’s inner badass and takes a big step back — he wants to stay clean and Driver isn’t imposing. But then a debt he owes comes back to haunt him, and Driver steps in to help. It doesn’t go exactly as planned, leaving Driver to clean up the mess despite his standard disclaimer of being involved only in the five minutes while the theft is going on and then the getaway.
Brooks was good as a sort of B-movie, connected criminal/investor. Perlman was grotesque (intentionally, I assume) as a lower level Jewish mobster angry with the racism of his organization. Mulligan was cute — she didn’t have a huge scope. Gosling was excellent as Driver.
At the outset, I wasn’t sure what to think of Driver. He’s taciturn, watching everything, judging, planning, but expressing little verbally or with his body language. Is his mentor taking advantage of him? Is he so shy that he can’t even express his admiration or desire for Irene? Staring contests and cartoon-watching with Benecio are the scenes in which he seems to connect best with another human being. Even his most physically intimate scenes with Irene (holding hands while driving, kissing in an elevator) are prompted either by her (reaching out) or something external (seeing an armed man who’s come for him step into the elevator with them). The most emotional statement made by Driver is over the phone, with resounding silence as a response. The silence of the entire film, in terms of soundtrack and background noise, is striking.
It isn’t until half way through the movie that Driver’s capacity for violence is revealed, and even then the revelation is just a hint of what is to come.
In a lot ways, Drive felt like a western. Where did that masked man come from? Where did he go when he rode off into the sunset? Except I’m not sure if Driver would have worn a white hat or a black one. Nominally, he is the hero for Irene and Benecio, keeping them out of the cross-hairs of an organized crime family. But would they have been better off if he hadn’t gotten involved at all?
ETA: Driver wears a quilted, white satin (or silk?) jacket with a huge gold scorpion embroidered on the back. At first I disregarded the scorpion but then when he first began to emerge from his stolid silence, all I could think of was the fable of the scorpion and the frog…which he later refers to when negotiating.