"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 Driver
In Drive — a 2011 crime thriller directed by Nicolas Winding Refn, itself based on a 2005 novel of the same name by James Sallis — Ryan Gosling plays The Driver, a stuntman/mechanic in Los Angeles who moonlights as a getaway driver for robberies. The Driver has isolated and detached himself from just about everyone else in the world — except his boss, Shannon (Bryan Cranston), and his young neighbor Irene (Carey Mulligan), whom he becomes emotionally attached to.Despite various Award Snubs, critics and cinephile circles alike heaped tons of praise upon the film; thanks to this praise and its box office success, Drive looks to become a Cult Classic.A sequel to the novel, titled Driven, was published in April 2012.Don't confuse this film with the 1998 Marc Dacascos film of the same name.
The following tropes belong to Drive, no matter what:
Absence Makes the Heart Go Yonder: Irene has clearly been re-thinking her marriage to Standard during his prison term, but reaffirms their relationship upon his return.
The Ace: The Driver effortlessly escapes from a chase from the police in the beginning and Shannon calls him the best driver he's ever seen.
Broken Ace: The Driver however is aware of just how dangerous his job is. Not simply because of his role as a getaway driver but as his metaphor of the "frog and the scorpion" also of how dangerous is associates can be.
Bernie Rose. Hell, he genuinely apologizes to Shannon when he slits his wrist and comforts him while as dies, and is visibly shaken with his death afterward. He seems very regretful that all of this violence has to happen.
Shannon counts as well, admitting cheerfully to Irene that he severely underpays the Driver for what he's worth, but acting like a father figure to him as well. Unfortunately, his ill-advised attempt to reach out to Bernie Rose to get a better idea of what the deal was with the pawn shop job puts himself, the Driver, and Irene all in danger
Anachronic Order: The entirety of the novel, which can make it initially rather difficult to follow despite the fairly straightforward plot. Screenwriter Hossein Amini noted that this made adapting the novel a very challenging proposition. The film only makes use of it in three scenes.
Anyone Can Die: By the end of the movie Standard, Bernie, Nino, Blanche, Shannon, several mooks and possibly the Driver are all dead, and that's a movie with fewer than 10 named major or minor characters in it.
Beware the Nice Ones/Beware the Quiet Ones:The Driver may be soft-spoken, quietly friendly, and loyal, but he can hold his own in a fight, has a serious capacity for violence, and knows a thing or two about getting away from the police.
Bittersweet Ending: In the end, the Driver has defeated all of the villains and ensured Irene's safety, but he drives away without the money, does not get the girl, and it's not revealed if he gets treated for his stab wound.
Black and Gray Morality: The Driver is himself a criminal with some anger issues. He must go against a rogue's gallery of LA mobsters and murderers who are much worse than him.
Blofeld Ploy: Played with. Bernie is piping mad at Nino for trying to pull off a heist, screwing up and potentially getting them both killed by the East Coast mob. To show his dissatisfaction he stabs a Mook in the eye with a fork, stabs him repeatedly in the throat with a knife and tells Nino "Now it's your turn to clean up after me." The Mook participated in the heist so he was a loose end to be killed like anyone else involved. It was the manner of his death that was meant to show Nino how pissed off Bernie was.
Boom, Headshot: Blanche gets half of her head blown off by a shotgun at close range.
Driver's driving style is very precise and lacks the flashiness we might expect from a driving movie. He prefers to play cat-and-mouse games with the cops rather than engaging them in long, high-speed car chases.
Most of the killings are quick, brutal and done up close. There are no fancy fistfights, knife fights or Gun Fu.
Brick Joke: A very dark example. Early on in the film, Bernie and Shannon have agreed on an investment deal for Shannon's plan to have The Driver work as a stock-car driver. Shannon, excited, offers Bernie his hand, but Bernie is still hesitant about the deal and pointedly does not accept. Later on in the film, Bernie shows up in Shannon's garage and talks about how excited he was at the prospect of their deal, and offers Shannon his hand, which Shannon accepts. Bernie then pulls out a straight razor and slits Shannon's arm from elbow to wrist on the spot, leaving him to bleed to death.
Brutal Honesty: Bernie Rose always seems to be giving you the unvarnished truth. In the end, he promised that the girl was safe, and said outright that he couldn't offer the same to the Driver once they left the restaurant. Sure enough, he stabs him in the parking lot.
Chekhov's Skill: Early on in the film while shooting a stunt for a movie, the Driver has to do a rollover, where another car hits his while he's driving and his car flips his over several times. He uses the exact same method to knock Nino's car off a cliff.
Chest Insignia: The Driver has a yellow scorpion insignia on the back of his silver jacket, which the camera frequently lingers on. Later, he refers to the fable of the scorpion and the frog, which is about a good-natured frog who carries a scorpion on his back despite knowing full well its predatory nature, and ends up getting stung for his trouble.
Damsel in Distress: Protecting Irene and her child is the sole reason Driver gets involved in the crime spree of the film.
Dark and Troubled Past: It's not laboured on, but it's hinted that the Driver has one of these. The original novel goes into greater detail.
Dead Star Walking: Christina Hendricks gets fourth billing in the opening credits and all the trailers but is around for all of two scenes with barely any dialogue before getting shot in the head. Though in the ending credits, she's billed sixth.
Did Not Get the Girl: Because of his tangling with Bernie and Nino, Driver has to abandon Irene and Benicio, which he warned her would happen.
Diegetic Switch: Inverted. Ryan Gosling exits his apartment after finishing work on an engine component (carburetor), and he notices Irene sitting outside her apartment. The narrative music switches to music being played inside Irene's apartment, muffled from being behind a closed door.
Dies Wide Open: Teased in the end. Driver drags himself behind the wheel of his car and stares into space without blinking for nearly a minute straight. He finally blinks, however, and drives away. This is a callback to an earlier scene where he has a staring contest with a boy and claims that the kid blinked first.
Drop the Hammer: The Driver brings along a carpeter's claw hammer and uses it to beak a gangster's arms, then threatens to drive a bullet into his skull. The hammer's image has become iconic of the film, and is known for inspiring many fan-made posters such as this one◊ to evoke it.
The Farmer and the Viper: The more plot-relevant "Scorpion and the Frog" version is referenced by name by the Driver near the end of the film, which goes along with his scorpion jacket ("carrying" the scorpion symbol around on his back), showing that the parable's moral is not lost on him.
Le Film Artistique: The film's detractors have criticized that the film leans more towards this at times (especially in the first half) than towards being an action thriller. This was the result of Refn and Gosling's input. It's lampshaded by Bernie:
I used to produce movies. In the eighties. Kind of like action films, sexy stuff. One critic called them European. I thought they were shit.
The Film of the Book: A surprisingly faithful adaptation of James Sallis' novel, though with a few major changes and lacking its completely non-chronological order.
Foreshadowing: Early in the film Driver loses a staring contest with the young Benicio. This foreshadows the final scene in which Driver sits motionless in his car after being stabbed by Bernie; staring for an extremely long time. The audience is unaware if he is alive or not, until he finally blinks.
Gainax Ending: The ending might be this depending on how you interpret it. The final scene is somewhere between the ending of Being There, the Dying Dream interpretation of the ending of Taxi Driver and a surreal-ish Shout-Out to the ending of Shane. Basically, as the credits roll, the Driver blinks after a full minute of corpse-like behavior, proceeds to twist the key and start the engine, and drive off to parts unknown while leaving the money suitcase on the ground next to Bernie's dead body. So, was he dead or not?
Generic Ethnic Crime Gang: Subverted - Nino and Bernie are Jewish gangsters, though Nino's front is still a pizzeria, which Bernie mocks him for. Nino later complains that the true Italian mobsters from the East Coast still call him the anti-Semitic term "kike" and patronize him relentlessly, a source of extreme frustration and insecurity which explains much of his behaviour. Though only used once in the film, without explanation, by Bernie, Nino's real name is in fact the much more Jewish "Izzy". If you haven't read the novel it's likely you wouldn't even notice this.
He Who Fights Monsters: Bernie and Nino are both violent criminals, as are their goons, but the Driver begins to out-perform them in cruel violence.
Hidden Depths: The Driver, who comes across as a deeply quiet and shy man who has a few minor criminal connections, but is later revealed to have great reserves of anger and darkness within him. His Backstory was explained in detail in the source novel, but only suggested in the film. Hinted at with both Bernie Rose and Nino; both appear to come off as little more than ruthless and vicious criminals, but Bernie gives the impression at times of a man deeply weary with his life and apparently genuinely eager to set up a stock car racing team with Shannon, while Nino reveals that he's stewing with resentment at never being shown respect by his criminal associates.
Hollywood California: Notably showcases both the town's highs and its lows. Despite taking place in and around Hollywood and the Driver being a professional stunt driver for the movies, and while occasionally detouring to film sets, stock car racetracks, sports stadiums and massive LED-rimmed skyscrapers, the film, like its protagonist, mostly focuses on the much less glamorous side of area, setting itself in cheap apartment complexes and garages.
In two forms: a tribute to the crime movies of the '80s, especially Michael Mann...and to classic Westerns like Shane and The Searchers, which gets a Homage Shot, complete with flipping the meaning of the original shot, to boot. The innocent Irene is the one who has the door closed on her, not the criminal Driver. The eighties-style, pink neon lettering in the credits is a nod to similar credits in Risky Business.
The film eerily echoes the 1980s Walter Hill film, The Driver, starring Ryan O'Neal, who played a similarly enigmatic and nonverbal driver for criminals.
Iconic Outfit: Driver's white satin jacket with embroidered gold scorpion on the back, driving gloves, skinny tight black jeans, light colored madison boots, and a hammer.
Innocent Bystander: The Driver does not involve Irene and avoids telling her specifics that might make her an associate with him. In the end, after several more murders, he chooses to never see her again.
Jerkass: Nino isn't particularly nice to Shannon, and because he's so difficult to work with he ends up starting the conflict by calling the robbery on the east cost mob and wanting the Driver killed afterwards.
Knife Nut: Bernie does all of his killings with bladed weapons. He's even got a very nice box of expensive knives and razors that he puts to good use.
Latex Perfection: Realistically averted. The silicone rubber mask in the film is used for The Driver to resemble the star he's doing the stunts for. It is of very high quality and makes him look like the star from a distance but becomes very Uncanny Valley up-close.
Legitimate Businessmen's Social Club: "Nino's Pizza" is a thinly-veiled meeting place for his low-level ring of thugs and mob associates. It's actually played doubly straight, as it's also a front for Nino's own persona: he's a former Jewish street tough from Brooklyn that's still aspiring to be an Italian mafioso and burdened with mockery and condescension from his East Coast counterparts.
Limited Wardrobe: The Driver takes his satin jacket everywhere, even when it's noticeably stained with blood. He also only ever seems to wear the same denim shirt under it.
Meaningful Name: Nino is a real Italian name, but in Spanish, it means "child," reflecting both the character's behavior and how he's perceived by his supposed peers.
Metallicar Syndrome: Subverted to the point of comedy. The opening scene shows Ryan Gosling picking up a modified car for use in a heist. He and the mechanic walk past 5 or 6 flashy American muscle cars while the mechanic quips, "Here she is, plain-jane as can be, the most popular car in the state of California, the [modern day] Chevy Impala". Keep in mind that the Impala also used to be a flashy American muscle car back in the day.
Mood Whiplash: The movie uses a lot of happy music before it switches to very brutal violence. In particular, the elevator scene goes from a very romantic scene to a mook having his brains stomped into pulp.
Mook Horror Show: The Driver stalks Nino after he leaves the pizza place at night, chasing them to the beach at night. The Driver is even wearing a blank face mask from a stunt movie.
Motor Mouth: Unlike the Driver, his partner/mentor Shannon is always making conversation, and later on ends up telling Bernie about Irene.
Never Trust a Trailer: The trailers give the impression that the film is a straight car chase thriller similar to The Fast and the Furious, when it actually features quite a lot of quiet drama scenes sprinkled amongst the bone-crunching violence. One woman even sued because she didn't receive a The Fast and the Furious clone.
No-Holds-Barred Beatdown: The Driver is a pragmatic and vicious fighter, killing one man by stabbing him with a curtain rod. Then, while saying goodbye to his not-girlfriend, he kills a hitman with them in an elevator, going to even further extremes (doubtless his love was also his Berserk Button). She is shown to be visibly freaked out by the killing.
No Name Given: The Driver. The closest to a name we get is Shannon calling him "Kid". The soundtrack refers to him as "Deluxe", which is taken from a pun on Standard's name in the film.
Not Wearing Tights: The Driver's satin jacket with its scorpion motif is akin to this. In interviews, Ryan Gosling and director Nicholas Winding Refn have both likened the character to a superhero.
Not Quite Dead: The Driver gets stabbed in the stomach by Bernie in the end. He is left sitting in his car blanked out until his Real Hero theme song begins to play and he remains conscious enough to drive away.
Oral Fixation: The Driver has a habit of leaving a toothpick hanging out of his mouth, allowing him to look cool while pointedly not smoking tobacco.
Orange/Blue Contrast: Pretty much every shot. Even if both orange and blue aren't present in one shot together, the scene will likely be set up so that from one angle it's orange, and from another it's blue. Notably, blue/pink is used in a number of the night scenes. Refn explained that the stylized appearance of the film is in part due to his colour-blindness, as he can't see mid-colours.
Multiple times characters are shown cleaning their hands of grease, blood, etc. When the Driver is reluctant to shake Bernie's hand because his hands are dirty with grease, Bernie quips that his hands are "dirty" too.
The Driver never cleans his jacket, walking around in broad daylight with it even when it's stained in blood. The closest he gets to cleaning it is a quick dip in the ocean.
The Plan: The events of the second half of the film result from Nino's failed attempt at one of these.
Product Placement: Ford, Chevrolet, Chrysler, Budweiser, the Staples Center and Denny's (Irene works at one). One wonders how much Chevy paid for the inclusion of the Impala, which Shannon calls "plain Jane" and claims that no one will ever notice you driving one because it's so common.
The Quiet One: Driver is quite reticent, communicating more through his eyes and fleeting smiles than his words. In fact, he speaks fewer than twenty full sentences.
Race Lift: Irene. In the novel she's a Hispanic woman named Irina. In the film she's played by Carey Mulligan.
Reasonable Authority Figure: Turns out Standard is this as a husband. He initially gives off dangerous vibes during his return party and sounds a bit patronizing, but it turns out he genuinely loves his son and wife. He reacts very maturely to his realization that a man has been sniffing around his wife during his absence and respectfully gives them space to settle their affairs.
The actor's portrayal in the film is even done well enough to give some indication that he might be internally unhappy about it [the relationship between his wife and Driver], but is trying to turn a new leaf in his life, as the story implies later.
The Reveal: Irene sees the Driver as a nice, perhaps odd friend. And then she finds herself stuck in elevator with him and a mook. If it wasn't clear before, it becomes obvious that the Driver is a repressed sociopath who is probably more dangerous than the villians of this flick.
Roaring Rampage of Revenge: No "roaring" involved, but Driver goes on one of these, if a slightly more methodical version, after Standard dies. Bernie also seems to fear that the East Coast mob could go on one of these against him and Nino after Nino's plans go awry.
Robbing The Mob Bank: Standard's pawn shop heist turns up a million dollars in stashed mob money. Oops.
Rule of Cool: It doesn't really make a whole lot of sense that a getaway driver, working in the kind of profession that depends on anonymity, would wear a white satin jacket with a golden scorpion embroidered on the back. Indeed, at the end of the opening chase sequence the Driver can be seen taking off the jacket and donning a baseball cap so as to look less conspicuous. However, a great way to lose yourself in a crowd is to wear something outrageous with something mundane under it, ditching the outrageousness (which your pursuers will have noted and for which they will be searching) when you need to disappear. Though it's only seen once in the movie, it's not unlikely that this is what the Driver is aiming for throughout.
Sociopathic Hero: The Driver, in order to protect Irene and her son, is not hesitant to kill any men that come after them or set out himself to kill them.
Soundtrack Dissonance: The movie cuts from Cliff Martinez's quiet, abstract score or '80s-esque pop music to extremely brutal action with a silent background. There's also the slow motion scene of the Driver staring into a party Bernie and his goons are attending, wearing his creepy stunt mask and contemplating how he's going to kill everyone there, with this playing in the background.
Both characters were stuntmen who used vehicles as part of their employment, both were taken in and given a job in a low paying mechanic job where they found them selves doing a crooked sideline to make extra cash, they were also pretty soft spoken but had an air of understated charisma, they both ended up in a precarious predicament due to their criminal activity as well as getting angry with their boss/friend.
The Stoic: Driver. Ticking him off results in a very small change in his overall manner. Destroying a man's face by repeatedly kicking him and then walking away like nothing happened qualifies for this trope.
Not So Stoic: The Driver does become very angry towards Shannon when he accidently tells the bad guys about Irene.
Sunshine Noir: The setting and story are often described as this.
Nino for his brilliant plan to try and rob the East Coast mob and thinking he could get away with it scot free, and then doubly so with the way he handles the Driver's attempt to give the money back no-strings-attached. This part in particular is what mirrors the "Frog and the Scorpion" parable. Bernie calls him out on his reckless actions that dig both Bernie and himself down in a deeper hole.
Blanche, whose first instinct after a violent, scary chase where it's made clear she's been betrayed is to call in with her location.
Trailers Always Spoil: Most of the TV spots and trailers make it abundantly clear that Standard gets killed without actually saying it. This trailer gives away literally every single plot point in the film in two and a half minutes.
Tranquil Fury: The Driver never raises his voice, even when he's breaking your hands or threatening to kick your teeth down your throat.
Unstoppable Rage: Under a quiet demeanor Driver seems to have a lot of anger built up. We get a small glimpse of it after Standard comes home but it really explodes in the elevator scene where Driver seems to release decades worth of rage on the mook who comes after him and won't stop till the guy's head is just a stain on the floor.
Unresolved Sexual Tension: The Driver and Irene share a chaste and almost platonic romance before Standard returns home. The tension is finally broken in a very dreamlike kiss late in the film, which turns out to be their last.
The strippers at Cook's club don't seem particularly fazed by watching their boss get his hand broken with a hammer, the crap royally kicked out of him and forced to swallow a bullet. One of them even helpfully dials the number for his boss for the Driver.
The Driver in his bloodstained silver satin jacket never triggers a second glance, but considering he is hanging around movie sets in his blood stained jacket, this does make some sense.
Villain Ball: The Driver offers to simply give the money back to Nino, no strings attached, but he's such a "belligerent asshole" that he refuses and instead tries to have the Driver killed.
It does seem marginally appropriate considering the "trust no one" type of legitimate business he Nino is a part of. Better to kill everyone involved than trust that someone is trustworthy.
Wham Episode: Standard dies with extreme prejudice at approximately the middle of the movie. After that, multiple Gut Punches are thrown in. Beware of lighthearted music.
Wham Line: The Driver's true colors first come out when a former client tries to chat with him about their crime.
Driver: How about this: shut your mouth, or I'll kick your teeth down your throat and shut it for you.
Wouldn't Hurt a Child: Paired with Damsel in Distress, this trope explains why Driver gets involved in Standard's robbery scheme in the first place, to protect Irene's boy who was given a bullet by the Mook who beat up Standard. In effect, the desire to protect Irene & her child is what drives Driver throughout the film.
Your Cheating Heart: Surprisingly averted. It's clear that Driver and Irene having feelings for each other but they never act on them before or after her husband returns home. They kiss once later on but it's brief and after Standard has already been murdered.
You Have Failed Me: After Nino finds out a mook failed a robbery, he brutally stabs him in the neck.