Drive Killed The Driver

You can’t un-see what you’ve seen, and that can be a damn shame, especially when what you want to un-see was awesome.  If you’ve listened to any of the Cult Film Club episodes you’ll know that I’m a huge fan of Nicholas Winding Refn’s 2011 film Drive.  The 80s synth-inspired soundtrack, the film’s color palette, the silence between characters, the tension, the violence, Albert Brooks playing against type, I love it all.  Right now though, I would give just about anything to have not seen the film.  Why?  Well, I just finished watching Walter Hill’s 1978 film The Driver for the first time and no matter how hard I try I can’t stop comparing the two flicks.

I love movies, and these days I find that most of the stuff that I really want to see was made at least 25 years ago.  There are hundreds of films on my to-watch list, stuff that I was too you to catch the first time around, or stuff that I just wasn’t old enough to appreciate.  When I go back and catch up with these flicks it can be really difficult to try block out all of the modern films that have built off of these older works.  The first time I saw Citizen Kane I was not blown away.  In fact I was bored out of my skull.  I couldn’t appreciate the grand effect that it had had on practically everything that came after it, so much so that it I truly felt like I’d seen the film before.  I can’t even being to imagine what it was like for audiences to see that film with fresh eyes.

In the case of The Driver though, it’s heart wrenching because of only one film.  Drive.  The two flicks have so much shared DNA.  The concept of the nameless hero known only as The Driver, a loner who saves every penny, lives on the super cheap, and has very strict rules when taking a job.  Ryan O’Neal, Ryan Gosling, these guys are like flip sides of a coin.  Both made a name for themselves with blockbuster romantic comedies (Love Story and The Notebook), and both play the strong silent type well.  Both films begin with a heist shown to specifically illustrate the talents of the hero.  Both feature a heist that is doomed to go wrong, and both heroes know it, and do it anyway.  Both films feature a sadistic villain that ends up killing the hero’s confidant in a disturbing manner, and both have a very similar, slightly ambiguous bittersweet ending.  There is one difference though, and that’s that Drive is simply a better movie than The Driver.

This kills me because I love Walter Hill, and with a few exceptions I pretty much adore all of his films.  The Warriors, Streets of Fire and Hard Times are three of my all-time favorite flicks, movies that I can re-watch constantly.  Unfortunately there were a few flicks that I just hadn’t made the time to see yet, and The Driver was one of them.  Now I can’t help but wonder how I would have felt had I not seen Drive this past year.  I mean, the concepts alone should have won me over.  Would I have been able to look past Isabelle Adjani’s seriously wooden performance (it was so bad it made Sherilyn Fenn’s Keri in The Wraith seem Oscar-worthy in comparison) and the weak character actors that pepper the flick?  Would the weak writing concerning The Detective’s (Bruce Dern) grand plan to trap the Driver have been easier to swallow had I never seen Albert Brooks lock horns with Ryan Gosling?  I don’t know, and I’ll never know.

All I know for sure is that some days I want to wipe the slate completely clean and start my movie watching from scratch.  Forget about time travel, when are they going to invent the mind wipe procedure from Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind?

  • ShezCrafti

    Great post, Shawn. I’ve never seen The Driver, but I love all those other Walter Hill movies, so I really should make an effort.

    I’m totally on board with the idea of a mind-eraser for movies! When you’ve seen as many films as we have, it’s difficult not to have your opinions colored by what you know, or think you know. The Drive/Driver comparison kinda reminds me of what we were just talking about on Episode 3 about the True Grit remake. Not that I was ever a big fan of Westerns to begin with, but I can’t (or don’t want to) watch the original now.

    • Shawn Robare

      Yeah, there are a bunch of actors and actresses that I’m not familiar with, but I’m afraid to watch their flicks because I’m afraid of being disapointed. Audrey Hepburn, Cary Grant, and Paul Newman come to mind. I ended up watching Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and Hud and wasn’t as jazzed as I figured I should be.

      Have you seen Hard Times? That flick made me fall in love with Charles Bronson something fierce…

  • Paxton Holley

    Man, I love Bruce Dern but I’m not a fan of Ryan O’Neal. At least in most of his stuff. Regardless, I may have to check out The Driver.

    I watched Drive early last year and wasn’t for sure what to make of it. I didn’t love it like everyone else seems to. I thought parts of it were really good, but parts of it were confusing and weird. I don’t have any desire to ever watch it again. And I really like Ryan Gosling.

    My favorite Gosling adventures include the movie Fracture which is a highly underrated (and unseen) movie. I also enjoy Crazy, Stupid Love and The Ides of March. I’m really looking forward to Gangster Squad too.

    • Shawn Robare

      I love Bruce Dern, especially in flicks like The Burbs where he can “go nuts” with the characters he plays. I don’t have a ton of O’Neal flicks under my belt. Mainly I know him from my favorite 90s era flick Zero Effect, but he just plays the straight man in that. As far as Drive goes, I’m a big fan of films that leave breathing room in the scenes. Drive has a lot of this, in particular silences between characters where there is so much dialogue implied. On top of that Albert Brooks really blew me away. Add the super cool soundtrack (I’ve since become a huge fan of Kravinsky and College) and the great visuals and I was just in movie heaven. I think it helped that the story was so simple, it let the art side of the flick really breathe…

      • ShezCrafti

        Drive’s storytelling is very patient, which I appreciate. When you finally get to those graphic scenes, they have so much more of an impact.

        Yeah, same here on the visuals and soundtrack. It bleeds style.

        • The Goodwill Geek

          No kidding. I was stunned by the violence in drive. Which was the point, obviously. We’re supposed to be as terrified of the protagonist in that moment as his “girl” is.

          I was also impressed at how great Albert Brooks was as a villain but not really surprised in that it was really just sort of his snarky side being aloud to fully blossom into its own poisonous persona.

          • Shawn Robare

            The whole straight razor scene still gives me chills…

        • Shawn Robare

          Patient is the perfect word to describe it. I like that.

    • ShezCrafti

      I must profess my love for Drive as well. For me it just hit all the right notes.

      Fracture was very good.I haven’t seen Ides of March or Crazy, Stupid Love, but I want to.

  • The Goodwill Geek

    It’s so funny reading about your viewing of Citizen Kane because I’ve never worried so much about older, classic films being too old or dusty to be interesting, (Casablanca is genuinely one of my favorite movies because it still feels fresh, and stylish and just… alive I guess) but for the exact experience you mention. So many films have been remade, or have inspired up-and-coming filmmakers to ape their styles and stories, to the point where it feels like the older originals are sometimes the poor duplicates.

    Someone here mentioned Audrey Hepburn, and I finally got to watch Breakfast at Tiffany’s (albeit on a BUS RIDE to Boston from Maine, so not the ideal format…) a while back and I was just completely disappointed. I’m not a huge hater of all things “manic pixie dream-girl” if the movie is done right… but seeing one of the first stories on film to feature one (not to mention a horribly racist turn by Mickey Rooney as an Asian stereotype completely out of left field) just left me feeling uninspired.

    I think part of the problem was all the movies I had seen beforehand that made me expect more from the film.

    My lack of experience with film culture serves me in some aspects, because while some people may roll their eyes at how derivative the newest Tarentino movie may be of this or that subculture… it’s all greek to me. But then when I go back and see the source material… I often find it’s ruined for me.

    • Shawn Robare

      I do have to say that though it’s hard to put myself in the mindset of watching an older movie with fresh eyes, I can usually make it work with time. By my third viewing of Citzen Kane I was completely won over to its genius. I really wish the investment wasn’t so time consuming though.

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