Movie Review: Drive

By Matthew Huntley

September 22, 2011

Do you, uh, have any stuff?

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Drive is an action drama of both style and extreme violence, but not much else. After the screening, I discussed with a friend why we respond to films that favor substance over style, especially when stylistic movies, particularly ones from the action genre, seem harder to make. We decided it’s because, despite their glossiness and high production values, action movies are always at an inevitable distance from who we are and what we relate to, whereas movies that are more in touch with the human condition make us feel like we’re a part of them. In an indirect way, they let us know we’re not alone in the way we think, behave and interpret the world.

With that said, are movies of substance necessarily better than movies of style? Better is not the right word, but they are usually more impactful and memorable. Drive certainly had the potential to be more substantive, but it seems content as a technical exercise rather than telling an original story. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a sensational exercise, entertaining and well-made, but as such, it’s not going to stay imprinted on my mind as long as a strong narrative.


The movie stars Ryan Gosling, who’s simply credited as Driver, a quiet, withdrawn man of about 30 who acts as a driver-for-hire in Los Angeles and tells his clients they have him for five minutes to do whatever they need, which usually means driving the getaway car from a crime scene. He offers them no more time than that; he doesn’t take part in the illegal activity; he doesn’t carry a gun; and he doesn’t talk. He simply drives.

That’s his night job. During the day, he’s a stunt driver for the movies and an auto mechanic for Shannon (Bryan Cranston), his mentor-like boss who also books him his nighttime gigs. Driver lives in a modest apartment complex and seems to have no friends or family. That’s before he meets Irene (Carey Mulligan) and her son Benicio (Kaden Leos) from the down the hall. For the first time in what we assume to be a long time, Irene and Benicio are people he comes to care about and who show him affection in return. This explains why he turns so violent the moment he suspects they might be in danger. When Irene’s husband, Standard (Oscar Isaac), is released from prison, he’s threatened by the mob unless he robs a pawn shop. Driver agrees to help him if it means Irene and Benicio stay safe.

I appreciated that the movie didn’t make the husband just another abusive jerk. It would have been too easy for Driver and Standard to simply fight for the affection of Irene, but they come to respect each other and there’s a scene when Isaac delivers a credible and heartfelt memory, one which we sense Driver understands and envies.

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