Maybe it’s just the YouTube of “A Real Hero” talking, but I find myself more warmly disposed toward Drive today than I was when I wrote this. I still feel that when a film of this film’s obvious intelligence dances this close to the whole “down these mean streets a man must go” necessary-violence thing, it’s a lot tougher to get past than when a film of obvious stupidity does so. (I watch Road House a lot.) And I still maintain that the film didn’t push the Driver far enough in one direction or another emotionally for us to have a working context for his violent outbursts. But in retrospect I can see little pointillist moments almost coalescing into something emotionally coherent. His completely unknown past prior to six years ago; the way he draws the line at violence but nevertheless still possesses a familiarity with and talent for the criminal world; the totally convincing viciousness of his threat against the guy he once drove when they bump into each other at that diner; the effortless rapidity with which he adjusts to kill-or-be-killed violence; his obvious guilt over his involvement with Standard’s final criminal act and subsequent death; the slow-mo shot of him looking horrified after he kills the man in the elevator; wearing a mask the one time he intentionally sets out to kill someone; leaving the cash behind; leaving Irene and Benicio behind even though no one’s out to get him or them anymore; even Standard’s lingered-on homecoming speech about how what he did in the past was shameful, but now he’s got a second chance…If I were the theorizing type, my theory would be that once upon a time the Driver was a real rough customer, but he changed, and the events of the film brought out a side in him he’d long suppressed, and so he abandons the woman and child he’s come to care about rather than subject them to it again.
The reason I’d love for this to be a little more than theorizing is not because I need things spoonfed to me — what I’m calling for is more emotional information, not more plot-fact information — but because it would be interesting for the film to have developed the Driver more in this regard. I don’t know if Matt Seneca was kidding when he suggested the film should have shown the Driver crying after he killed the two guys who attacked him and Blanche in the hotel, but amen to that. That’s a scene I’d have liked to see.
But I saw plenty of lovely things. The film was impeccably cast and delightfully acted, from Gosling’s quiet kindness to Ron Perlman grinning Noo Yawk gangsterisms. The ’80s look and sound was luscious and unpretentious. The violence was refreshingly hideous, mitigating against the redemptive role it plays in the narrative. And even if it didn’t quite get there emotionally, I do feel like it tried, and it had enough other things going for it that, to a degree at least, it can be forgiven for stopping short of where it needed to go. In many ways my entire life up until this point has put me on a quest for sad trash, and Drive comes pretty close.