You are a rare kind of film. Many movies nowadays depend on action and spectacle to drive their narrative forward or – at the very least- keep people interested and distracted long enough to make them forget that the entire plot has been lost, replaced by a haze of fire and smoke. You, though, trust the audience enough that you progress, for the most part, without any clear narrative line for a quarter of your run time. In the place of a clear plot thread to guide us, you give us instead a compelling enigma of a character to follow and observe; to slowly come to understand, and possibly fear and admire.
At the outset, you seem simple enough. A man serves as the getaway driver to a pair of thieves. He is cold, professional, and in control of the situation in a way that awes both the thieves and the audience. As the soundtrack – a subtle beat of electronica – keeps the tempo of the getaway we see that he is not the prototypical wheelman. He obeys the speed limit, he is just as comfortable staying parked and hidden as he is tailing a police car. Aside from the radio, there is no sound in the car, and when the police finally do see him his reaction is fierce, sudden, but also brief and exact.
The Driver, never named, is a very rare and perplexing hero; the antithesis of what has come to be expected from a modern action film. He hardly speaks, even when spoken to. His words are delivered after long silences, as though he has taken considerable time and care in selecting and delivering them. When he smiles it is uncomfortable, as though showing emotion or any hint of interior life is alien to him. There is a stillness to him that is unnerving, and even when he moves he seems to be working against a kind of existential friction. As he becomes friends with his comely neighbor and her young son, he loosens only slightly, and it is with this loosening that the cracks in his facade begin to appear.
Much like The Driver, your tone and texture is that of subtle, unassuming menace and power. There is a control and reserve to your camera work and cinematography that lends a sense of extreme tension to every scene. Nothing happens that is not needed. Stillness prevails in all things. Even when cars are accelerating through the streets of Los Angeles, their passengers are riveted, braced and inanimate. Between your measured, assured tone and the deliberate, terse movements and words of The Driver, there is just barely room to breath for most of your beginning.
Of course this exactitude and precision leaves no room for anything else. In this vacuum of motion and action even a pin dropping would constitute a massive shock. So when the first cracks appear in The Driver’s composure, the effect is jolting. The sense of unease is replaced by palpable menace, and as events begin mounting and situations allow less and less time for responses to be measured and weighed, The Driver’s lightening, animal nature is allowed to reign freely. The transition is the opposite of seamless – it is violent, marked. Yet it is organic as well, and while it adds a corporeal thrill to the final act, it also highlights and deepens the more cerebral pleasures of the first. Watching this man come alive, watching him drop his careful maintained and articulated rouse, is thrilling and horrible all at once. That he seems to fully understand his nature and the way it makes him appear to others is all the more affecting.
As laudable and admirable as your direction is – in terms of set design, costume, camera work, music, everything – Ryan Gosling will probably be the source of much of the praise you will receive, and rightly so. An actor of considerable talent in films like Half Nelson, the relied on his expressiveness, he accomplishes here a feat of creating and suggesting much by doing and saying very little. His composure and precision is unmatched in any film this year, and perhaps in the last few years. It is through this stillness and meaningfulness of motion and action that he inhabits The Driver fully and effectively.
I have left the bulk of your plot vague and obscured, and for good reason. The vicious jolts of understanding that lead to the flashes of pure violent power are best left unspoiled. Let me just say, though, that you have a courageous and perfect ending, the kind that most movies would not trust an audience to accept, let alone understand, and I appreciate that faith.
You are a solid, precision machine of a film, crafted with utmost care and acted with utter perfection. I can’t wait to take you for another spin.
With full throttle love,
Brian J. Roan