Drive is one of those movies that you either love or you hate. Unless you're me. I say that because I have multiple friends who loathe this movie. I also have friends who deeply love and appreciate it. I am the weird loner in the middle who nervously looks from one side to another, waiting for the inevitable bloodshed.
Consequently, writing this review was rather difficult for me. After all, how do you construct a post that both praises and rips something apart? Here is my attempt to do so. We'll see how it goes.
Drive – Tale of the Lonely Hero
Drive, at its essence, reminds me of a cowboy adventure. Not some lighthearted romp where ladies are charmed and villains' pistols are shot out of their hands. There is no Cherokee guide, no friendly bartender at a saloon. This is more the story of the lone wanderer, that troubled soul who, despite a dark past, seeks to escape it by doing good. He is an anti-hero, a guy who makes you wonder how he manages to live his life within a society that he wants almost nothing to do with.
This movie is about a nameless character, known only as the Driver. He has a life that, despite its action-oriented nature, seems ultimately unfulfilled. By day, he is a garage mechanic and stunt double. By night, he serves as a getaway driver for all manner of heists. Yet he has no real friends or family. His apartment is bare, a mere roof and board serving only for him to sleep in. Despite the excitement that you would expect from being involved in the criminal underworld, the Driver seems almost completely detached from it. In fact, his modus operandi is to obtain as much distance as possible from those involved; if his clients do not fit themselves to his timetable, the Driver leaves. He has no personal connection to the heists and only a reserved, tolerant friendship with Shannon, the boss of the garage he works in. He is a man adrift with seemingly no purpose or, well... drive.
Then he meets his neighbor, a shy and quiet woman his own age, Irene. She has a kid; the father is in jail. At first, the Driver is leery of talking to her. But, soon enough, he helps her and, just like that, he is hooked. He finds a quiet rapport with Irene that he can't seem to find anywhere else. They go out driving together, he helps her with groceries. It seems he has found his purpose. But then her husband comes back, released from prison. The Driver's idyllic time with Irene is endangered, first by the suspicions of the husband, then by his links with the criminal element.
*SPOILERS BEYOND THIS POINT*
Drive proves to be an incredibly effective movie at maintaining a certain tone. The atmosphere is very, very withdrawn. To the point of almost being surreal, everything that happens has a backdrop that is somber, at times with energy seething below the surface. In essence, it is a mirror of the personality of the Driver himself. Everything contributes to this artistic goal; the soundtrack is eerie and ethereal, the Driver's mode is to almost always be in complete and exacting control of himself, and the filming seems, at times, almost exclusively in one slow motion or another. When it succeeds, we are enchanted and drawn irresistibly to what is happening on screen.
Taken altogether, Drive gives us a story of one man's effort to be the white knight, even when the suit just doesn't fit him. On one level, we are frustrated he would even try; he is obviously attracted to a married woman and gets increasingly involved in bonding with her, despite there being no payoff for him. Even when the husband returns and it becomes clear that the Driver's future with this woman can never be, the Driver still puts himself out there for her. It gets to the point where we realize that he is making a mistake; the Driver is either going to cause some inappropriate rift in Irene's family or he will be shut out entirely.
But, similarly, we see the intense connection between the two and we can't help but powerfully empathize with the Driver's desire to help. As events transpire, it seems that the Driver is the only one capable of doing so. Yet, simultaneously, everything that the Driver does seems to put everyone into increasing danger. In the end, the Driver sees how massively he has failed and realizes that he must sever himself from Irene completely in order to end the threat, even if it means losing his life in the process. The Driver thus becomes the embodiment of a tragic hero, doomed to never get what he yearns for but sacrificing himself for it nonetheless.
This path is given further resonance with how the Driver's stoic personality is tested to its limits. Through one intensely grotesque scene after another, we see how the man barely seems to be holding it together. Underneath that incredibly reserved demeanor is someone who clearly has decades of pent-up rage; we can only speculate whether it is rage directed at the world, at the obstacles faced throughout his life, or at himself. It is a side of him that he does his best to hide carefully from Irene and inevitably fails in doing so. This is embodied in the fact that, when he is putting forth his best image for Irene, things tend to be in slow motion. By contrast, his most vicious side is almost always embodied in real-time. It is an illustration that one part of him is living a fantasy, and the other is the cold, hard reality.
It is hard not to relate to this. Though (hopefully!) none of us would brutalize people if pushed to the limit, we all can understand the desire to shape ourselves into the best we can be for the people we care for or seek to impress. At some point in our lives, despite what society tells us about 'just being yourself,' we try and inevitably fail to make ourselves appear to be more attractive to someone else. The experience of the Driver is an extreme case of this human tendency, but it still is able to resonate nonetheless.
Drive – Creepy Masochistic Stalker Bores the Audience and then Freaks It Out
On the flip side, I can see how some could look at this movie as being hopelessly boring and then turning into a disgusting gore fest. It is worth noting that the events of the movie itself conspire to try and make the viewer restless; by showing us the early mundane life of the Driver with such a tone as described above, the movie's creators try to instill into us unsettled energy seething just below the surface, the same energy and darker side that the Driver tries to keep hidden from Irene. The fact of the matter is that the Driver's life is ridiculously uninteresting. A popular criticism of the movie is that, for a hundred minute-long movie about a getaway stuntman driver, we only get maybe eight minutes of car chases. Fair enough. It's like making a movie about a super-spy and then spending the majority of it on some irrelevant romance in the countryside. Drive misrepresents itself in this; the introduction is a high-tension cat-and-mouse escape from the police while the rest of the movie is essentially a slow character study.
Another criticism is that the romance between the Driver and Irene is both unrealistic and rather creepy. What married woman in her right mind would befriend a suspiciously silent stranger, a guy who spends the majority of his time staring at her instead of talking, whose only career description is that 'he drives'? Not to mention that she does this in a high-crime neighborhood while her husband is away in prison. It's also worth pointing out that their relationship isn't even honest; the Driver never fully reveals his background in crime, and neither of them say anything about what they expect from one another. It is an ephemeral relationship based on almost nothing but what they imagine the other to be.
This criticism is completely fair. I would say that the relationship's validity is based on your ability or willingness to fill in the blanks. Alternatively, I could say that the unworkable nature of the relationship is part of what makes the Driver a tragic hero and the movie itself into a tragedy. It could go either way.
The last criticism is that this movie whiplashes from a romance to a gory crime drama halfway through. I'm totally with this, but I also understand why this decision was made. It goes back to the Driver's personality. The caring side that we see throughout the first half of the movie is the mask that he wants to wear and adopt for his own. But the brutal side is his reality, and it asserts itself over time, much like how the movie gets more and more violent as the minutes pass. On paper, it's brilliant. Watching it is more of a mixed bag, however. All the violent scenes are crazy violent. The drama surrounding the crimelord is watchable, but not gripping. The character of Nino, the foul-mouthed and dull second-in-command, is completely uninteresting. Thus the criminal underworld that we see merely becomes a device to push the Driver over the edge of what he can withstand.
All in all, I obviously find Drive to be a very interesting movie. I can't say it is great. It has flaws, and a decent segment of it is rather unbelievable. But I have to admire it for how completely it devotes itself to the story it wants to tell. Soundtrack, cinematography, acting, filming, character development... All of these things are subservient to the overall vision of what the director wants to create. For that, at least, it is worth seeing.