You think you know this film. You already have your references in your pocket like a deck of cards. Two-Lane Blacktop, maybe Vanishing Point. Bullitt, of course. Walter Hill’s The Driver, for sure. If you’re clever, William Friedkin’s To Live And Die In L.A has been slipped into the stack.
The pre-title sequence does nothing to change your mind. Throbbing synths, a heist, a chase. A nameless driver, expressionless, almost wordless, dressed in a retro silver jacket with a scorpion on the back. Even the titles are done in hot pink Brush Script. You’re guided towards Risky Business, After Hours. It’s 80s kitsch done with flair and style. Nothing more.
And then, just when you think you’ve got a handle on it, the damn thing keeps changing gears on you, accelerating away, upping the game. The film wrongfoots you at every turn. Moments of heart-glow tenderness are matched with scenes of shocking violence. The bad guys are worse than you think. But the plan they concoct, the engine of the film, has a fatal flaw. No-one really knows the driver. Which means that no-one really knows what he’s capable of. And that scorpion on his jacket isn’t an affectation. It’s a plain-as-sunrise warning.
You won’t see a better slice of LA noir this year. Newton Thomas Sigel’s cinematography is dripping with hot gold and sky blue. NOT teal and orange, let me stress that – this is one good looking film. Ryan Gosling has the driver nailed. He wears a mask, and when it slips, when the cracks start to show, that’s when the fireworks start. Albert Brooks has finally figured out rule number one: comedians make the best villains. The real star of this film? Los Angeles herself, dolled up in cheap diamonds and lurid stripper-chic. The driver knows every inch of her, and doesn’t understand how cruel she can be at all.
Drive takes all the assumptions you have about driver films and flips them over. This one really is about the journey as much as the destination, and believe me, it’s one hell of a ride.
You think you know this film. Trust me. You don’t.