[Contains a souped-up Chevy and SPOILERS!!!]
I was actually quite enjoying Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive (2011) up until the reveal that the criminal mastermind (ho ho!) behind the dummy heist and all of The Driver’s subsequent problems, also happened to be the exact same violent hoodlum whose business partner was sponsoring The Driver’s fledgling racing career. It just seemed too coincidental for my liking… and made it seem like there were only a handful of people in the whole of L.A. involved in organised crime! At one point the partner comments how unlucky The Driver was to get caught up in that one ill-fated heist, out of the thousands taking place every day in the city, but I’d say it was more than just bad luck… I’d say it was lousy writing!*
Still, it wasn’t until I started reading up on the film’s development, that I realised I had an even bigger issue with the movie than that. Apparently, in the original script The Driver’s love-interest was a Latina named ‘Irina’… but when it came time to cast the role, the director plumped for lily-white English actress Carey Mulligan instead. Ack! That’s the very opposite of affirmative action, and the very opposite of progress! I mean, it’s one thing not to cast an ethnic actress in a “colour blind” role, but to take a good-sized, meaty role that was written for an actress-of-colour and whitewash it… that’s just taking the piss!
When the film was first released, one disgruntled theatre-goer filed a nuisance lawsuit in which it was alleged (among other things) that the movie was “Anti-Semitic”. I don’t know if I’d go that far, but I do think there’s something troubling about the way that Mulligan and Ryan Gosling are depicted onscreen, as blonde-haired angels, smiling beatifically at each other while bathed in golden light, sharing a chaste, unspoken love… a love that’s threatened and maligned by the crude, sneaky, swarthy brunettes around them. Now, granted, the first time we meet Gosling’s character, he’s cheerfully acting as the getaway driver for a couple of armed robbers… and he clearly takes a great deal of pride in his law-breaking skills, so it would be a bit of a stretch to call him “innocent”, in the strictest sense of the word. But he tells potential employers upfront that he doesn’t carry a gun, and doesn’t actually become violent until he’s forced to do so by the villains… and throughout the film Bryan Cranston’s character insists that he’s “a good kid”, while the soundtrack repeatedly assures us that he’s “a real human being and a real hero”. So, if he‘s a “real human being”, what does that make the other, non-blonde characters? Less than human? Feh.
To me, this movie was little more than a stylish but vacuous hybrid of Luc Besson’s Léon (aka The Professional) and The Transporter, further undermined by some seriously regressive racialist tendencies. It also totally wasted Christina Hendricks in a supporting role as a short-lived moll… which is a far less serious crime, but still something I feel compelled to complain about. It’s so rare to see her wearing casual, contemporary clothes! Why couldn’t she live a little longer, dammit?
* I found a couple of articles comparing the movie to the novella it was based on… apparently the sub-plot with the villains sponsoring The Driver as a stock car racer was invented for the screenplay… so that whole credibility-shredding contrivance could have been avoided! Ack!