reel back: homicidal hero

Scorpios have always scared the crap out of me.

I don’t subscribe much to zodiac signs, but I’ve learned to be wary of Scorpios. Every Scorpio I’ve met has been driven, focused, and quick with the stinging rejoinders in an argument.

If you’re a Scorpio, don’t tell me. I’ll probably tiptoe around you on the way to the nearest exit.

In Drive (2011, which won a “Best Director” for Nicolas Winding Refn at Cannes), The Kid (played by Ryan Gosling) — known to non-intimates as “the driver” — wears a satiny white, padded jacket with a gold scorpion on the back: soft material; crazy-assed emblem. Kinda flashy compared to the denim jacket he wears on jobs, but also quite fitting.

Poster found here.

At first glance, The Kid is quiet and unassuming, a highly competent mechanic, as well as a superb stunt driver in Hollywood. In fact, he’s the dream getaway man: uncompromising in giving very specific “transporter” rules, but he’ll get you to safety and walk away clean, with perfect timing.

On the personal side, the Kid is kind to his lame (if slightly lovable) manager Shannon (the guy who actually gave him the moniker, played by Bryan Cranston), and sweet on his new neighbor, Irene (Carey Mulligan), and her son Benicio. Against The Kid’s better judgment, he’s drawn to the latter two, in particular.

(You just know his involvement with these people will mess up his otherwise unruffled albeit adrenaline-packed existence.)

The young mother – who tends to breathe really deeply whenever he’s around (who wouldn’t? ahem) – keeps getting in his way, in need of rescuing. What starts out as holding the elevator door open for her, becomes driving her home due to car trouble, and escalates to trying to get her unfortunate husband out of trouble. And so on and so forth.

Then again, there’s more to The Kid than what he lets on (just in case the jacket didn’t give it away).

Shady businessman Bernie (Albert Brooks) extends his hand to shake and The Kid goes, after a looong pause, “My hands are dirty.” To which Bernie with his trademark terrifying amiability replies, “So are mine.” Just a simple exchange of words and you’ve got two dangerous men taking each other’s measure.

The script’s fantastic in that it offers minimal language, but these little gems are scattered all over the place. One scene blends into another, seamlessly.

Case in point: when shady Bernie weaves a warning into a seemingly friendly offer of accessibility to The Kid, the succeeding scene has the latter watching a cartoon (presumably) with Benicio.

“Is he a bad guy?” asks The Kid, referring to the TV.
“Yeah,” says Benicio.
“How can you tell?”
“Coz he’s a shark.”
“There’s no good shark?”
“No… I mean, just look at him. Does he look like a good guy to you?”


Shoptalk. Photo lifted from here.

Give a good script to great actors, and you’ve struck gold. Even bit parts (including a belligerent mob boss-wannabe played by Ron Perlman) are spit-shiny. But it’s really Gosling who carries the bulk of the show.

You’ve got to hand it to Gosling for conveying so much with just a stare and a blink and a charming little smile. It’s the measure of a good actor that a mere flicker of an eyelid or tilt of the head or penetrating look can go from “Shut your mouth or I’ll kick your teeth down your throat and gut you,” to “I’m thinking of undressing you right now even though we’ve just met and your kid’s on the other side of the room – but I’m keeping my distance ‘coz you’re rather emotionally fragile on account of the ex-convict husband. Still, just looking at you – and I can go on forever – gives me great joy.” (Or something to that effect.)


I may be just a tiny bit biased as far as Gosling is concerned (okay, I’m a LOT biased), but the dude transforms onscreen kissing into real art. And then he turns around and shows what a badass he can be with hand in blood-red glove, a sliver of a curtain rod, stolen shotgun, hammer, and knife. And several cars, of course.

He can be cool as a cucumber one moment, and a homicidal maniac with shaky hands, just itching to deal major pain, the next.

The fact that he does everything he can – soils his shiny white jacket with blood and sweat and I suspect a tear or two – in order to protect mother and child, makes the audience sappy and sympathetic.

That elevator scene, wherein The Kid showcases both his tender and violent side, is masterful.

So, yes. Yet again, my theory about Scorpios plays out. Gosling is the man. Drive is the bomb (despite the neon-pink 80s lettering). Plus it has a killer soundtrack. Dig it up and watch it, if you haven’t yet.

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