This review reportedly contains spoilers.
I can handle the truth.
Matt Conti said:
Drive is a film lauded for its sleek and smooth style. It's also a film that criticizes the very style it adopts. Underneath the standard story, there's a whole different engine rumbling under the hood of the film's surface level. It's true that we see what looks to be your standard Hollywood crime thriller. In fact, it follows all the notes. But Drive has an entirely different motive its playing with, and it all lies with the characters of the film.
Director Nicholas Winding Refn's previous films, notably The Pusher Trilogy, were based around the idea of having characters living a life of crime, but not really happy with their place. Refn is all about making his characters sympathetic, because in reality, a life of crime isn't entirely a happy one. It continues here, with further emphasis.
Most notable are the two antagonists of the film. In any other film, they'd be complete and total scum. Unlikable. You want them to die. Here, if we bother to look deeper, we find two old men, unsatisfied with the life of crime they've been living. Ron Perlman's character is tired, and feels that despite his age, he has not come to receive any respect. Albert Brooks on the other hand has never liked his life, and finally with the introduction of The Driver into his life and the promise of a return to the legitimate life.
Oscar Isaac's Standard is a great bypass of the cliche ex convict husband. Standard too, looks to go legitimate. He too is forced by circumstances out of his control to live in a life of crime. He's the catalyst for the downfall of all the side characters in the film.
Equally tragic is Carey Mulligan's character, Irene. Despite being related to two individuals living a life of crime, she's completely innocent. Every scene with her seems to take place in a fairy tale, and then, when she's introduced to the world of The Driver in that infamous elevator sequence, her world suddenly becomes real, and dark. By the end of the film, she's damaged and broken. Unsure of her own reality.
This leads me to the main character, and our protagonist, The Driver. The Driver is our "hero" of the film, but he's really anything but. In Refn's world, he is the villain. He is a psychopath, hellbent on lying and cheating to get his way. He has no regard for people other than Irene, and even then, his relationship to her is questionable. It seems that he find he can relate more with her son than Irene herself.
But worst of all, he has no regret for his actions. It's his doings that brings down the lives of everyone involved in one heist gone wrong. He sees himself as the hero, but he really is a villain. Everyone else in the film is in a life of crime because they're forced to. The Driver, meanwhile, willingly engages in acts as a criminal. He has a side job. He doesn't need to. But he does.
I'm reminded of Jef Costello from Le Samourai, a favorite film of mine. In that film, Costello was like a machine. He does everything with a meticulous nature and a general disregard for other people. The Driver here is similar, but Refn brings a darker element. Underneath the sleek style, there's a tragically brutal story going on here. Lives are ruined by such an inconsequential event.
Refn's film is ultimately a critique of the standard Hollywood film, and it does so by donning the appearance of one, and adjusting some of the parts.