An unnamed getaway driver (Ryan Gosling) finds love in his beautiful neighbor Irene (Carey Mulligan). What could go wrong with such a couple? The answer we get from Drive is everything. Nicholas Winding Refn’s 2011 film shows an intriguing psychological slice of unraveling life as it follows its mysterious and silent protagonist. Driver’s few words, at first, are a cute quirk, especially when matched with his smile and gentle kindness towards a single mother and her son. As the movie progresses, however, his few words seem to be masking something darker, and much more sinister.
The opening scene portrays Driver as dangerously intelligent and meticulously careful, as he manages to escape a police chase unscathed. His job is simple – he drives. He mans the getaway car for anyone willing to pay the price. It is also revealed that he daylights as a professional stunt man in Hollywood films and that he has the opportunity to become a racecar driver. He lives his life alone, finding friendship in his boss at the car garage where he works, and as the film progresses, with his neighbor and her son. The beginning of the film bears the promise of felicity; the lonely man finds familial love, and through scenes of laughter, driving with the windows down, no place to go or be, we think this man can finally be happy. But when Irene’s husband gets released from jail, Driver deals with this foreign element the only way he can: by driving.
It is in this second half where Driver’s darker side is revealed. While he remains the “good guy,” helping the newly freed husband only gets him caught up in a complicated and gruesome robbery-turned-gang-war. It is here that his actions start to speak louder than his soft-spoken words. Looking back, Driver still seems to be a strong, silent, pure and handsome man, but there is far more to this chilling character than initially meets the eye. Unfortunately, his psyche is a mystery to us, and we don’t get much explanation as to why he snaps and becomes unbelievably violent and angry. Driver becomes obsessed with preserving the lives of Irene and her son, which warps him into a vicious and uncaring murderer; our protagonist has changed into something unrecognizable.
Drive features many lovely, picturesque moments, which make the moments of graphic violence all the more shocking (especially if you’re like me and didn’t see the trailer). The slow motion, the dearth of dialogue, and moody lighting all add to a dreamy feel, until our eyes are met with gunshots and brutal murder. Driver’s mysterious character remains exactly that: mysterious and unpredictable. There is never any explanation for his actions, such as family issues or a flashback to childhood mistreatment. His psychological imbalance is overpowering and yet is never addressed in the movie; this makes him a less relatable character, but also a fascinating one. Mystery can often deepen a character, and while Driver’s strange personality and unknown motivations can be upsetting, our frustration is paired with wonderment and curiosity, which makes this film an off-beat masterpiece.
Drive is available for streaming on Netflix.