Author: Hossein Amini
Writer’s Potential: 4
After a stunt driver falls in love with a beautiful woman, he agrees to serve as wheelman for a bank heist spearheaded by the woman’s ex-con husband.
In Los Angeles, a man known only as DRIVER plans out a mysterious route on a map. He visits his friend, SHANNON (male, a grizzled old mechanic), who provides Driver with a white Civic. Driver waits impatiently in the Civic as two thieves rob a huge electronic store. He listens to the Clippers game on the radio. The thieves are caught by a security guard and must shoot their way out. They barely make it to the Civic, but the police have already been alerted. Driver has to make a daring escape through downtown L.A. Just when it seems like he’s eluded the police and blended into the heavy night traffic, a police car catches sight of the Civic and gives chase again. Driver tries to listen to the Clippers game and the police scanner simultaneously, and once the game ends, we understand why: he reaches the Staples Center just as crowds of people flood the parking lot, dozens of them getting into Civics identical to Driver’s. The police lose Driver, and he and the thieves get away unscathed.
The next day, Driver and Shannon work on a film set as stunt drivers and mechanics for the cherried-out vintage cars required for this 1970s-set production. Both Shannon and Driver hate the work. Shannon yearns to earn enough to buy their on stock car and get Driver racing, but they’re along way from that, even with their illegal nighttime activities. Driver performs a stunt maneuver with an incompetent actor who insists on doing his own driving. Driver is such an expert that he makes the actor look great. The crew applaud the actor, while Driver goes unnoticed. Shannon asks mobster BERNIE ROSE to invest in his stock car, promising a return of millions once Driver starts winning big races. Bernie balks when Driver says he doesn’t have any money himself. Driver stops for dinner at a redneck bar populated by lowlives. A man who once worked with Driver asks him to work as wheelman again. Driver refuses.
Driver goes to his apartment building and discovers he lives down the hall from IRINA, an attractive Latina. They have an awkward moment together on the elevator before going to their respective homes. Shannon and Driver take Bernie to a dirt track to test drive a stock car. Bernie’s impressed with Driver’s maneuvering. Driver and Shannon haggle with the car owner, while Bernie agrees to invest in their plans. Driver spots Irina and her son, BENICIO (6), at a supermarket. Driver quietly observes them. He drives past Irina as she struggles home with the groceries and offers to help. Irina offers Driver a drink, then makes him feel bad for refusing, so he stays. She asks a lot of typical getting-to-know-you questions, but she notices Driver’s terse responses and lack of enthusiasm, so she starts talking about herself instead. She explains that Benicio’s father is in prison for attempting to rob a bank. When Irina finds out Driver is a stunt-driver, she invites herself to the film set, to show Benicio something he’d enjoy. On set, Shannon and Benicio get along extremely well. Driver and Irina quietly continue to get to know each other. Driver finds himself falling for her in spite of himself. When they’re saying goodbye, he hesitates and doesn’t kiss her.
Another day, at Irina’s apartment, Driver and Benicio watch cartoons dubbed into Spanish while Benicio narrates. An emergency comes up, and Driver offers to drive Irina. She reluctantly explains that her husband cut a deal and is being released from prison. Driver isn’t sure if this will change their budding relationship, until she explains that she must stay with her husband for Benicio’s sake. Both Driver and Irina are disappointed by this development. Irina kisses Driver passionately. The next day, Irina and many of their friends throw a getting-out party for STANDARD, Irina’s wife. He seems like a nice guy, but he’s not terribly enthusiastic about Driver being at the party. Benicio doesn’t stop talking about Driver, and he keeps seeing looks exchanged between Driver and Irina. He politely threatens Driver. Later, on set, Shannon gets into an argument with an assistant director, which prompts Driver to beat the living crap out of them, getting both Driver and Shannon fired. Driver returns to his apartment to discover Standard in the parking garage, bloodied and beaten, with a shocked Benicio as a witness to it. Standard pathetically asks Driver to use his apartment to clean up so Irina doesn’t see him in this condition. Standard correctly identifies Driver as an ex-con. He confesses that he’s in deep to a gang for debts he collected in prison, and they now want to collect. He says he has a “sweet score” lined up to fix all his problems.
Driver, Shannon, and Bernie try to sell NINO (Bernie’s business partner) on their stock car idea. He’s not as easily convinced as Bernie. Standard shows up at Shannon’s garage and offers Driver the opportunity to be his wheelman. Driver agrees to help Standard, for Irina and Benicio. Standard introduces Driver to COOK, the mastermind of this bank heist. Cook obnoxiously lays out the plans. Thrilled that things are coming together, Standard buys a huge chicken and brings Driver home for dinner. Irina is suspicious about the two of them together. Driver test drives and buys an old Dodge sedan. He maps various routes to the bank, various avenues of escape, memorizing the terrain, street names, speed traps, everything. Irina confronts Driver about Standard’s sneaking out at night and talking big to Benicio. She wonders why Driver would agree to help a failure. Driver tries to talk Standard out of the heist, but Standard believes it’s such a sure thing, he can’t say no.
The heist goes off seemingly without a hitch: Cook, Standard, DAVE, and BLANCHE hold the place up. The manager takes Cook to a safe deposit box, where he retrieves a duffel bag filled with cash. Standard eyes this suspiciously. They don’t take any other money. Outside, Driver notices a suspicious souped-up Roush Mustang parked down the street. Cook gets down on the floor and pretends to be a hostage while the others make their escape. Standard and Dave don’t notice a young guard follow them outside. He kills them both. Only Blanche gets to Driver’s Dodge alive. He reluctantly speeds away, taking notice of the Mustang. After a long chase, Driver leads the Mustang to a speed trap. He slows down to the speed limit while the Mustang plows past the cops, who pull it over. Driver and Blanche hole up in a cheap motel, where they find $3 million in cash in the duffel bag. Blanche insists she was only supposed to get $30,000. They see a news report in which the young guard says they shot “both” robbers and there were no accomplices. Driver realizes Cook always planned to double-cross them, and that the guard was an inside man whose sole function was to kill them. Driver assumes the Mustang was there to serve the same purpose. Driver thinks Blanche was in on the setup. She admits she was but that nobody was supposed to get hurt—they were just supposed to get much less money than the actual take. An assassin sneaks through the bathroom window of the motel and kills Blanche. After a lengthy, brutal fight, Driver kills the assassin and steals his car.
Shannon takes Driver to a shady doctor to get patched up. Driver seeks out Irina at Standard’s funeral. She’s angry at him. Driver tries to explain about Standard’s debt, and she softens—until she finds out he, too, is an ex-con. She leaves. Shannon asks Bernie if he knows anything about Cook. Bernie says Cook is a dangerous man who works out of a strip club. Armed with that information, Driver goes to the strip club and is about to beat the hell out of Cook—when he sees Cook has had the hell beaten out of him already. Driver realizes Cook is a shill for someone else. When Cook won’t give up his bosses, Driver beats him up and takes his cell phone. Driver calls a number that appears multiple times on Cook’s call log, and he’s connected with an enforcer in a TAN SUIT. When Driver tells him he has $3 million, Tan Suit connects Driver to his boss—Nino, Bernie’s business partner. Driver doesn’t recognize the voice. Driver agrees to hand over the money in exchange for being let out of this game completely. Nino agrees.
Driver goes back to his apartment, explaining to Irina that he’s leaving but he wants Irina and Benecio to come with him, so they can get away from this life. Tan Suit (not recognized by Driver, who only spoke with him on the phone) and another enforcer follow Driver and Irina to the restaurant where she waits tables. They attack Driver at the restaurant. He manages to get away, making sure Irina’s all right before fleeing. Driver meets with Shannon, wondering how they could have tracked Driver. Shannon realizes Bernie is the connection. Driver asks Shannon to rig a car for him so he can get away cleanly. Nino explains to Bernie that the money belonged to a Philadelphia mobster who intended to set up shop in L.A. Bernie is angry that Nino would defy their bosses. The only solution is to kill Driver and Shannon, to prevent anyone from ever knowing who stole the money. Bernie agrees to it. He kills Cook, then goes after Shannon. Shannon’s resigned to his fate. He allows Bernie to kill him without a fight.
Driver arrives at Shannon’s to pick up the car. He finds Shannon’s corpse. He goes to Nino’s restaurant and follows two luxury cars—one with Nino, the other with bodyguards—onto the PCH. With spectacular stunt driving—including an intentional repeat of his stunt with the incompetent actor in the first act—Driver is able to take out both cars. Nino’s the only one who survives, and barely. Driver takes one of the enforcers’ guns and shoots Nino dead with it. He meets with Bernie, who’s pragmatic about the whole situation. He agrees to hand over the money if Bernie gives him a decent head start to avoid any future mob enforces. Bernie agrees, but just as he’s about to hand over the money, Bernie sticks Driver with a switchblade. Driver slits Bernie’s throat with it and takes the money. He abandons his car in a large, long-term parking lot, then calls Irina and gives her the license number, explaining he’s left some money in it for her and Benicio. At death’s door, Driver hot-wires a Camaro and speeds away.
Drive can’t figure out if it wants to be a mindless action flick or a brooding study of a criminal who wants to reform. The end result is a script that’s simultaneously tedious and ridiculous. None of the characters are interesting or developed enough to care about, the story is filled with holes, and the action sequences are both infrequent and dull as dirt. As written, it merits a pass.
The story opens on a sour note, with a seemingly endless robbery and chase sequence that seeks to throw the audience in medias res. The most compelling—and confusing—thing about this sequence is Driver’s mysterious obsession with the Clippers game. While this leads to a moderately clever payoff, it isn’t worth 10 pages of stale car-chase antics to get there. From there, the script gets bogged down in the bland Driver-Irina relationship, which is supposed to drive the rest of the action. Their romance simply never comes across as intense or interesting enough to believe Driver would do so much—including possibly sacrificing himself at the end—just for her and her adorable moppet.
The addition of Standard in the second act could have served the Driver-Irina relationship well. He essentially exists to keep them apart, even after his death, but because the writer never does the job of making their relationship significant in the first act, not much in the second or third act holds any weight. This includes the goofy twist—that Nino and Bernie, his alleged business partners, were coincidentally behind the whole bank heist and now want Driver dead—which is patently obvious from the moment Bernie starts taking such an active interest in Driver’s driving ability. This leads to the disastrous third act plot hole, which suggests that Driver will be chased by the Mafia for the rest of his (probably short) life, yet Irina and Benicio will be fine with $3 million in Mob money. Nobody from the Mafia is going to come after the wife of a man publicly identified as one of the slain bank robbers? Not even when she quits her job, moves to a better part of town, and enrolls Benicio in private school? Really?
The characters, simply put, are a brooding bunch of sourpusses. The script barely has a moment of levity, which contributes to its leaden pace. They’re all angry people with rotten lives, but none of them are angry in interesting ways, and there’s very little that’s compelling about their rotten lives. A believable, well-developed love triangle between Driver, Irina, and Standard could have gone a long way toward making these people interesting, or at least vulnerable, but this isn’t that. Because the characters rarely have any believable motivations for their actions (the closest is Standard and his debt), they exist solely to drive a plot forward. It would be nice if these characters had real personalities, and did foolish things for clear reasons that may not be smart, but are at least in line with who they are and how they act.
The dialogue is atypically atrocious, which perhaps contributes to the feeling that these characters lack dimension or personality. Every character has pretty much the same speech pattern, regardless of age, occupation, or fluency in English, and that speech pattern too often resembles the florid, exposition-heavy monologues of an Agatha Christie novel instead of the gritty tough-guy patois a script like this needs.