Cast: Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan, Bryan Cranston, Christina Hendricks, Ron Perlman, Oscar Isaac, Albert Brooks
Oscar Nominations: Best Sound Editing (Lon Bender, Victor Ray Ennis)
SUMMARY: Driver (Ryan Gosling) — who is never given a real name in the film — has several jobs in order to make ends meet. Officially, he works in a garage owned and run by Shannon (Bryan Cranston), and does occasional stunt work for the movies. Unofficially (with Shannon’s help), he acts as a getaway-driver-for-hire, working for criminals who hire him to help them escape. With his three jobs keeping him busy, Driver has little time for a social life, until he meets his pretty neighbor Irene (Carey Mulligan), who has a young son named Benicio. Irene’s husband, Standard (Oscar Isaac) is currently in prison, so Driver begins to spend more and more time with the pair. Although Irene is still married, she and Driver begin to develop feelings for each other. Meanwhile, Shannon has come up with a new scheme to utilize Driver’s skills: he wants to buy stock car, refurbish it, and have Driver race it. For money, Shannon turns to mobsters Bernie Rose (Albert Brooks) and Nino (Ron Perlman). After seeing Driver in action, the two agree, and buy the chassis. One day, Irene gets a call that her husband has been released from prison and is coming home. Standard quickly hears about Driver from his wife and son, but is wary of the man who has been paying so much attention to Irene. When Driver comes home one day, he finds Standard lying on the ground outside the apartment building, having been severely beaten by two gangsters. Driver helps him inside, and Standard explains that he owes money to the gangsters, because they protected him in prison. The amount he owes has fluctuated to an amount he cannot hope to pay, so the gangsters want him to rob a pawnshop for them. Standard doesn’t want to do this (which led to the beating), but when the gangsters threaten his wife and son, he is unable to decide on a course of action. Driver does not want Irene and Benicio to be in danger, so he offers to act as the driver for the robbery; his record virtually assures that Standard will get away safely. One of the gangsters who beat Standard, Book, agrees to the deal, provided that they take along his accomplice, Blanche (Christina Hendricks).
On the day of the robbery, Driver steals a Mustang, then drives himself, Blanche and Standard to the pawnshop. As Blanche and Standard go inside, he notices another car (a Chrysler) pull up beside him. Blanche soon comes out with the money; shortly after, Standard comes outside, but is followed by the store owner, who shoots him several times and kills him. After watching this, Driver immediately takes off, followed by the Chrysler that was in the parking lot with him. Driver is able to lose them fairly quickly, and he and Blanche go to a hotel to figure out their next move. Instead of the $40,000 they were supposed to get, the bag of money holds a million dollars; however, a TV news reporter announces that according to the pawnshop owner, Standard acted alone, and no money was stolen. Driver realizes that Blanche and Cook have tricked him (and Standard), and forces her to admit that she and Cook planned to take the money back with the Chrysler. Only minutes later, two men attack the hotel room, killing Blanche and shooting Driver in the arm before he is able to kill them. He goes to Shannon’s garage, where his arm is tended to. Driver consults with Shannon, who offers to call Bernie to figure things out. Meanwhile, Driver tracks Cook to a strip club, where he beats him until Cook reveals that the mastermind behind the double-cross was Nino. Driver calls Nino and offers to return the money in exchange for no further attacks; Nino agrees, but sends a man to check things out. This hitman encounters Driver in the elevator of his apartment building, where Driver has just explained to Irene what happened with her husband. Driver realizes that the man is there to kill him, and after kissing Irene he acts first, and attacks the hitman. He quickly knocks him down, but continues to kick and stomp on the hitman until he is dead. Irene has watched all this, and with a horrified look on her face, quickly leaves the elevator. Elsewhere, Nino explains to Bernie that the stolen money actually belonged to a low-level Mafia man from Philadelphia; a horrified Bernie realizes that this could bring the entire East Coast Mafia down on their heads. Nino points out that there are only a few people who could connect them to the crime: Shannon, Driver, and Cook, who is currently eating. Bernie silently picks up a fork, stabs Cook in the eye, then stabs him several more times in the throat with a knife. Later, he goes to Shannon’s garage, and kills him by slashing his forearm with a straight razor (causing him to quickly bleed out). The Driver eventually finds him when he comes to get a car. He puts the money inside, retrieves a rubber mask from a movie set, and waits for Nino to leave his restaurant. He then follows Nino’s car, rear-ends it, then comes back and T-bones it, knocking it down onto the beach. When Nino somehow stumbles out of the wreck, Driver drowns him in the ocean. He then calls Irene and explains to her that he has to leave, and will not come back, but tells her that the time spent with her and Benicio was the best time of his life. Driver then meets Bernie at a restaurant, where he gets an agreement that in return for the money, Irene and Benicio will be left alone. The two go to the parking lot to retrieve the money, but Bernie stabs Driver in the stomach; Driver then turns and stabs Bernie in the neck, which kills him. Driver survives, and after leaving the bag of money next to Bernie’s body, drives away.
MY TAKE: Poor Irene has some pretty lousy taste in men. It’s never mentioned why, but her husband is in prison, and is dumb enough to accept protection from mobsters. I realize that protection is probably needed in prison, but seriously, did anyone ever say, “Gee, I’m really glad I made that deal with the Mob”? The vast majority of people involved with the Mob end up dying from unnatural causes. Then, even though she’s still married, she gets involved with Driver, who doesn’t seem to be violent at first. However, the viewer knows that he abets all sorts of criminals on the sly, and he soon proves that he’s one brutal dude. When he stomped the guy’s head in on the elevator, I had to look away. I’m amazed Irene didn’t throw up right there. The thing is, she apparently still has feelings for him. I’ve never been in a situation like that, but I think that I would have run for the hills after seeing that, especially if I had a kid. In my opinion, anybody who is capable of that will one day snap on you. I did like the overall feel of this movie, because it seemed like an 80s movie, with the way songs and music were used, and the way the titles looked. The action is definitely 2010s, which is okay, because there were a lot of lousy 80s movies. I don’t know, I had mixed feelings about Driver: I wanted to like him, but the fact that he willingly engaged in crime, and then showed himself to be brutally violent, held me back. A couple fun things: Shannon is played by Bryan Cranston, who is more famous for his roles in Breaking Bad and Malcolm in the Middle; however, he also has a 2016 Best Actor Oscar nomination, for his role in Trumbo. Bernie is played by Albert Brooks, who was in Broadcast News, but is probably more famous for being the voice of Nemo’s dad Marlin in Finding Nemo and Finding Dory. You can totally tell this if you listen to him.
RATING: Not bad.