Ryan Gosling as DRIVER in DRIVE, a film directed by Nicolas Winding Refn. Picture credit: Richard Foreman. Courtesy of FilmDistrict, Bold Films and OddLot Entertainment.
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Opened: 09/16/2011 Wide
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Trailer: Click for trailer
Rated: R for strong brutal bloody violence, language and some nudity.
Breakout Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn (THE PUSHER Trilogy, BRONSON, VALHALLA RISING) throttles into the Hollywood fast lane with the precision-crafted action caper DRIVE.
Ryan Gosling stars as a Los Angeles wheelman for hire, stunt driving for movie productions by day and steering getaway vehicles for armed heists by night. Though a loner by nature, Driver can't help falling in love with his beautiful neighbor Irene (Carey Mulligan), a vulnerable young mother dragged into a dangerous underworld by the return of her ex-convict husband Standard (Oscar Isaac).
After a heist intended to pay off Standard's protection money spins unpredictably out of control, Driver finds himself driving defense for the girl he loves, tailgated by a syndicate of deadly serious criminals (Albert Brooks and Ron Perlman). But when he realizes that the gangsters are after more than the bag of cash in his trunk--that they're coming straight for Irene and her son--Driver is forced to shift gears and go on offense.
DRIVE was written by Academy Award® nominee Hossein Amini (THE WINGS OF THE DOVE) and adapted from the eponymous novel by James Sallis. It was produced by Marc Platt, Gigi Pritzker, Michel Litvak, Adam Siegel and John Palermo; executive producers are David Lancaster, Gary Michael Walters, Bill Lischak, Linda McDonough, and Peter Schlessel.
Cast includes Academy Award® nominees Ryan Gosling (THE NOTEBOOK, HALF NELSON, BLUE VALENTINE) and Carey Mulligan (AN EDUCATION, WALL STREET 2: MONEY NEVER SLEEPS), three-time Emmy® Award winner Bryan Cranston ("Breaking Bad"), Golden Globe® winner Ron Perlman ("Sons of Anarchy"), Emmy® nominee Christina Hendricks ("Mad Men"), Oscar Isaac (BODY OF LIES, ROBIN HOOD) and Academy Award® nominee Albert Brooks (BROADCAST NEWS, TAXI DRIVER).
Driver (RYAN GOSLING) is a Hollywood stunt driver, flipping cars and spinning wheels for formulaic Hollywood action pictures. But as he likes to say, "It's only part time." By night he's the getaway driver for heist operations, navigating the labyrinth of L.A. streets with a mechanical precision that makes him one of the best in the business.
Shannon (BRYAN CRANSTON) is Driver's agent, for both daytime and nighttime employment. Like any small-time criminal, Shannon has a big plan: to fund a stock car for Driver to race on the professional circuit while he manages the team. Enter Bernie Rose (ALBERT BROOKS), a former movie producer who since climbed up the crime family hierarchy. After seeing Driver in action at the speedway, Bernie Rose insists that childhood friend Nino (RON PERLMAN) also partner with them.
Though Driver is a lone wolf by nature and professional necessity, his icy exterior starts to melt the second he shares an elevator with his new high-rise neighbor, Irene (CAREY MULLIGAN). When he sees her again at the grocery store with her young son, Benicio (KADEN LEOS), struggling with a stalled engine that won't turn over, he can't help but offer them a ride. Pretty soon he is, happily, driving them everywhere. While Irene works her waitress shifts, Driver watches Benicio, and they soon settle into an unexpected domestic bliss.
This interlude in Driver's life squeals to an abrupt stop when Irene's husband Standard (OSCAR ISAAC) is released early from prison for good behavior. Even though nothing has happened between Driver and Irene, Standard is threatened by another man's presence in his family's life. Driver shifts into reverse and gives them a wide clearance, respectful of Irene's desire to keep her family together.
But when Driver finds Standard bloodied and beaten in the garage--with an emotionally traumatized Benicio standing just a few feet away--Driver gets embroiled ever further in Irene's life. Standard is deeply indebted to the mob for the "protection money" he collected in jail and is charged with robbing a pawnshop in order to pay off the gangsters threatening harm not just to him but to Irene and Benicio. In desperation, he turns to Driver for help.
That's where Cook (JAMES BIBERI) and Blanche (CHRISTINA HENDRICKS), Cook's stripper girlfriend, come in. Cook lays out the plan of the robbery: Standard and Blanche enter the pawnshop and secure the cash while Driver keeps the car running outside. Everyone will get a percentage of the haul, which means Standard can pay the sharks after him.
But the job doesn't go as planned. When Standard is shot dead leaving the pawnshop and a mysterious second car tries to re-steal the money that they have just stolen, Driver discovers that they have been turned into pawns in an elaborate intra-mob rivalry. As he tries to puzzle together what happened and who can be trusted, he finds that the burnt tire tracks lead straight to his own employees: Nino and Bernie.
Driver's instinctive impulse to extract revenge for the double-cross that ended in Standard's death is tempered by his need to secure a safe harbor for the now widowed Irene and orphaned Benicio. He attempts to negotiate with the mob by bargaining away the stolen money, but soon discovers they won't be satisfied until every potential witness has been taken care of--permanently. Up against a gangster syndicate that won't rest until he and everyone he cares about has been eliminated, Driver has no choice but to shift gears and go on offense.
About the Production
Director Nicolas Winding Refn has been a major figure on the international film circuit since making his debut at the age of 24 with the gritty 1996 gangster pic PUSHER. In its technically brilliant and tonally sophisticated mix of black comedy, high tragedy and viscerally effective action, Pusher not only initiated a landmark trilogy in the crime genre--a franchise currently being remade in English by Vertigo Films--it also showcased the singular vision of Denmark's biggest break-out success since Lars von Trier. Refn's international reputation has since been buoyed by the critical acclaim and cult following that came in the wake of U.K. crossovers BRONSON, a bare-knuckled, convention-busting biopic of the infamous English criminal Charlie Bronson, which spotlighted a brilliant performance by Tom Hardy in the title role; and VALHALLA RISING, a muddy, bloody Medieval epic elevated to the level of religious art.
Based on Refn's past achievements, Ryan Gosling approached the director about a forthcoming adaptation of James Sallis' pared down, page-turning pulp novel Drive. Refn thought that the novel's Los Angeles setting and stunt-driver story line made for a particularly cinematic scenario, and he appreciated Sallis' breakneck narrative economy and signature brand of noir-ish existentialism shaded with sardonic humor. In the figure of the book's nameless protagonist (known only as Driver), Refn saw an opportunity to simultaneously deepen his dramatic interests and dramatically expand his audience.
"Driver flows into characters I put together for BRONSON and VALHALLA RISING," says Refn. "These larger-than-life, ambiguously god-like figures. I'm very interested in the dark side of heroism, how that unstoppable drive and righteous adherence to a code above the average person's can shade into something that is quite psychotic."
Though Ryan Gosling's early successes as a child actor and breakout role in THE NOTEBOOK had made him an extremely bankable talent, the actor has repeatedly eschewed conventionally commercial projects in favor of emotionally and technically demanding roles. With critically lauded performances in THE BELIEVER, HALF NELSON and BLUE VALENTINE, Gosling has proven himself to be one of his generation's most hardworking and ambitious young stars.
"I was really intrigued by the role of Driver because the performance demanded this very complex dramatic counterpoint," Gosling explains. "On the one hand, he's really self-contained, really laconic. There's an economy of movement in the way he carries himself, an economy of words in the way he speaks. He keeps his cards close to his chest and there's an almost poker-faced inscrutability to his reactions. All of which ties into his character, because this is the kind of mechanical self-control he achieves in the flow-situation of driving. Nic kept saying to me, 'The Driver is half-man, half-machine.'
"On the other hand," Gosling continues, "Driver is literally psychotic, you know? A Travis Bickle, Taxi Driver-kind of character. Beneath all of that eerie outward calm, there is this reservoir of raging energy and hair-trigger violence. It's like when you're cruising in an automobile and the ride feels so smooth, so stable, so safe--then another car crosses your path. BAM. All that energy, all that mass-times-velocity momentum, is released in a flash of physical violence. And that's basically the character of Driver. He navigates around most obstacles with some very flawless trick-driving, literally and figuratively escaping without a scratch. But when the moment of impact unexpectedly arrives, it is violent and it physically slams you. The challenge is making the audience feel that tightly-coiled energy when Driver is ticking along as smoothly as a stopwatch."
"Ryan is a real rarity," says Refn. "He has the charisma and good looks of a leading man and the gravity of a Method-trained, master class performer. For the role of Driver, the film needed an actor who could convey the explosive violence and emotional loneliness of that lone-wolf character, yet also make his personal transformation through love authentic and believable. Few movie stars have that range. Ryan is one of them."
For the role of Irene, object of Driver's affection, Refn cast Oscar-nominated actress Carey Mulligan (AN EDUCATION, PUBLIC ENEMIES, WALL STREET: MONEY NEVER SLEEPS). Mulligan had been a fan of BRONSON and VALHALLA RISING and had even mentioned to her agent that she wanted to work with a director like Refn, but it was only after she expressed interest in the script that she learned who was helming the project. Mulligan's enthusiasm was matched by Refn's, who immediately ordered small rewrites of Irene's backstory so he could cast Mulligan.
Mulligan explains her interest in the part: "Irene's character was a challenge because she's really the pivot point for the film's secondary plot, which is literally about the love triangle between her, Driver and Irene's husband Standard but dramatically is about where they'll all end up in the most meaningful sense. And it's not an easy decision for her! Driver certainly seems like Irene's knight in shining armor, but Standard is drawn very sympathetically, as someone who's made mistakes but is genuinely trying to turn his life around. Plus she's loved him since she was 17! So to be able to play those two impulses off of one another, especially after Standard and Driver form an uneasy alliance, gave me so much to work with."
Says Refn: "Since I was a teenager, I've been a big fan of Sixteen Candles. I've always wanted to remake that film one way or another and, in a very unlikely way, I've done that in DRIVE. Carey has all the intelligence and charm of a young Molly Ringwald. The romantic scenes she has with Ryan make for a very delicate and beautiful contrast to the brutality in the rest of the film."
Oscar Isaac, one of Hollywood's hottest up-and-coming headliners, was chosen for the role of Irene's ex-convict husband Standard. A classically trained Juiliard Graduate who first gained attention for his Shakespearean stage performances, Isaac broke through to mass-audience awareness with his villainous turn as King John in Ridley Scott's ROBIN HOOD. Vanity Fair called that performance a "spotlight stealing" act, but Isaac likes to think of himself as a team player. "DRIVE has such an amazing ensemble cast that it really humbled me to be a part of it," he says. "Ryan and Carey have such chemistry on screen, there are times I found myself thinking, 'Heck, I'd dump me for Ryan too! And you probably could have guessed this, but Ron Perlman and Albert Brooks are two of the funniest guys I've ever met. Watching them weave that humor into serious dramatic performances taught me a lot."
The character of Shannon--Driver's one-man mechanic, agent and manager, as well as the closest thing he has to a friend--went to Bryan Cranston. Cranston first gained a cult following through his recurring roles on sitcoms like "Seinfeld," "The King of Queens" and "How I Met Your Mother," but his career took a turn towards more serious dramatic work with the starring role on the critically acclaimed cable drama "Breaking Bad," a performance for which he's received three consecutive Emmy Awards. Says Cranston, "One of the things I love about classical film noir, which DRIVE is similar to in a lot of ways, is how unforgettably vivid the supporting roles could be. Writers and directors would tuck these amazing little character studies into the margins of the film--figures who weren't necessarily heroic, or sympathetic, or even likable--and they'd cast the roles with distinctive character actors who made the scenes come alive. That's how I saw Shannon: he's this big dreamer who's come up short, someone whom Life has literally crippled, and his pathetic desperation is palpable in even his happiest scenes. I think the role as written is such an amazing little miniature, I loved tackling it."
Recently named "Sexiest Woman in the World" by Esquire Magazine, Christina Hendricks is best known for her role as Joan Halloway on AMC's "Mad Men". The iconically bold, brainy and busty character Hendricks created with Joan made her a natural to play Blanche, a flame-haired femme fatale who accompanies Driver on one of his heists. "I just loved that role," Hendricks enthused. "Blanche seems so feminine and supple soft on the outside, but underneath she is as tough as nails. As soon as I got into wardrobe and started strutting around the set in Blanche's stilettos, punctuating every sentence with a POP of my bubble gum, I knew exactly how I wanted to play her. And Nic was great; he just turned me loose and let me tear it up!"
Ron Perlman (CITY OF LOST CHILDREN, HELLBOY, HELLBOY 2) had just as much fun in the role of the flamboyant and hot-headed gangster Nino. "I'm not gonna pretend that Nino wasn't a blast to play. I come into every scene chewing the scenery up and spitting it out, riffing on four-letter profanities like they're guitar solos!" he says, laughing. "And not just because I'm hamming it up, but because that's the character! It's called acting! And Nic really gives you the space to improvise and have fun with it, to really sell it, you know? Because he knows exactly what he wants from a scene and how he is going to cover it, he is able to give you lots of space for structured improvisation. As a performer I love that."
With his gravelly Brooklyn accent and unmistakable mug, Perlman was practically born to play an outsized mafia boss. His character Nino makes for a dramatic contrast with Albert Brooks', here playing against type to great effect, as the deceptively friendly and low-key criminal Bernie Rose, whose outwardly harmless exterior conceals a deadly ruthlessness.
"Playing opposite Ron was a lot of fun, because our performances are on wavelengths that are as different as our characters," says Brooks. "Bernie's character sneaks up on you. You don't realize how deadly he is until he's already slipped the shank in your side, and just at the moment when you went to shake his hand. The challenge of suggesting that underlying menace without playing the subtext in a really obvious way appealed to me."
"Bernie's carefully concealed but tightly-coiled violence is also what connects him to Driver," Brooks continues. "There are similarities between Driver and Bernie that are really fascinating. Nic intuitively understands that in the best crime films, generally speaking, the hero and the villain are connected in a meaningful way--they have as much in common as they have differences. The affinities and parallels between the 'good guy' and the 'bad guy' are the means by which you explore more morally and psychologically complex material, elevating genre to the level of high drama."
The dramatic substance of the film is matched by the formal and stylistic precision of Refn's direction. DRIVE's technically assured visual design creates striking juxtapositions between the gritty, low-rent locations of the story world and the hyper-real, high-gloss sheen of the shooting techniques. With its hypnotic tracking shots, striking camera angles and intense, almost artificial color and lighting effects, DRIVE has visual style to burn. The plastic stylization of the images is underscored by their careful synchronization with the Eurosynth-heavy soundtrack. Audiences sensitive to film form will appreciate DRIVE's mesmerizingly rhythmic montages of downtown L.A.
This careful coordination of sound and image is nowhere more apparent than in the car chase sequences. "I don't drive a car," Refn confesses. "I don't even have a license! But for me, there's a fetish element to cars I find very exciting. Not the particular brand or manufacture, per se, but the sounds of the engine and the felt speed."
"Each of the three car chase sequences are conceived and scored differently," Refn continues. "The first is like a chess match, a game of wits that requires Driver to keep his cool, and it has a very insinuating, slow-building techno score by Johnny Jewel. The second is a straight chase sequence, pure adrenaline. There's no score except for the primal roar of the engines and the squeal of breaks, and the soundtrack is all the more emphatic because it's preceded by a relatively hushed period of anticipation. The third sequence is a stalking one, a stealth attack, and it's played against the mysterious and unsettling sound of 'Oh My Love,' from the soundtrack of the early-70s exploitation film GOODBYE, UNCLE TOM."
The film uses violence sparingly but to great effect. "Violence works when it comes as a shock," says Refn. "Real violence is always over in a matter of seconds. Many films nowadays linger on the acts of violence in a somewhat pornographic way, but that ultimately defuses the effect. The film creates tension because the threat of violence is constant--you don't know when it's going to explode into the frame." The film also makes creative use of suggestion. One sequence has Driver dispatch a would-be killer by literally bashing in his head. "We see nothing but a few drops of blood splatter on his jacket," Refn points out, but the way the soundtrack progresses from dull thuds to the crackling of bone to the squishing sound of flesh conveys a greater sensation of violence than a less discrete presentation.
"There are moments of violence in the film, but they're handled tactfully, almost poetically," Producer Marc E. Platt says, "Drive will engage audiences on many levels. Nic takes the material seriously; he adds moral and thematic weight to what could have been a routine wide-release programmer. Instead of condescending to the genre elements, he elevates them to his own level; instead of spinning his wheels through formulaic car chases, he ambitiously re-energizes their style. DRIVE should please critics, fan-boys and casual audiences alike. It will certainly introduce Refn to the widest audience he's ever known."