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How "Drive" Redefined Cinematic Cool

The cult hit turns 5 this year. Here's what makes it the coolest film of the decade.

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The following is a collage of stills, external interviews, reviews, and script excerpts that explores how Drive redefined cinematic cool.

Driver: There's a hundred thousand streets in this city, you don’t need to know the route. You give me a time and place, I give you a five-minute window. Those five minutes I’m yours. Whatever goes down I’m yours. Minute either side you’re on your own… – Drive

19 May 2011, Cannes, France. I'm sitting in the Grand Théâtre Lumière where the late-night screening, Drive, is about to begin. From the second the opening credits roll, I'm in awe. I sit, jaw dropped, knuckles white, heart pounding. This. Is. So. Cool.

It’s pure cinema, a grenade of image and sound ready to blow. – Peter Travers, Rolling Stone

A long time ago, Jean-Luc Godard claimed that all anyone needed to make a film was a girl and a gun. In Drive, Nicolas Winding Refn tests out a slightly different formula. In this case all you need is a guy and a car. – AO Scott, New York Times

When I was a kid, when I first saw First Blood, it kind of put a spell on me and I thought I was Rambo. I went to school the next day and I put all these knives in my Fisher-Price Houdini kit and I fucking threw them at all these kids at recess, and I got suspended. – Ryan Gosling, Driver

I tried to see as many L.A. movies as I could. I saw To Live and Die in L.A. in the cinemas when I was young in the ’80s. I saw Thief as well, which is also a great movie. Walter Hill's The Driver. A lot of those kinds of films. – Nicolas Winding Refn, director


It’s about a guy who never feels more alive than when he’s behind the wheel of a car, so we wanted to treat the car as an extension of his personality. – Newton Thomas Sigel, director of photography

This is a guy that’s seen too many movies, and he’s started to confuse his life for a film. He’s lost in the mythology of Hollywood. – Gosling

This is a movie about a guy who drives around listening to pop music because it’s the only way he can feel. – Winding Refn

Drive is more born out of the Grimm brothers’ fairy tales more than anything else. The book that James Sallis wrote is really great and unique, almost like a script. It’s about the adventures within a sort of mythological city, and I wanted the film to feel like a fairy tale that the Brothers Grimm would write. – Winding Refn

I didn’t hit any kids and I didn’t hurt anybody, thank god, but my parents were like, “You can’t watch violent movies anymore." – Gosling

Drive is rated R. Acts of gruesomely violent chivalry and vehicular aggression. – NYT


White satin was our first choice. – Erin Benach, costume designer

A lot of stuff came out of ideas I had while listening to music. Like the white satin scorpion jacket came out of listening to Kiss’s "I Was Made For Loving You" like 1,000 times over and over again in a car. – Winding Refn

The logo itself is a reference to one of the first music videos ever made by Kenneth Anger called Scorpio Rising, paying homage to avant-garde filmmaking. – Benach

There’s something about this character: He has cinematic ideas of romance, and he lives in a fantasy. And that’s what John Hughes movies are — they’re just all cotton candy and champagne. The movie needed that, but it also needed a little blood on the cotton candy. – Gosling

Because the darkness would not work without the light. The darkness and the psychotic behavior that Driver would eventually express would not work if you didn’t have the champagne purity of the beginning. – Winding Refn

I don’t know what we ended up making — it’s some kind of crazy cross between Blue Velvet and Purple Rain. – Gosling


It is a testament to Refn’s supple gifts that the same film in which Gosling and Mulligan trade sheepish grins amid awkward silences can subsequently rise to operatic malevolence and yet feel entirely of a piece. – Christopher Orr, The Atlantic

A reminder of how powerful the genre can be when every shot and every line of dialogue has a purpose, deployed for maximum impact. – Scott Tobias, AV Club

The shooting script I handed in was 81 pages, and from then on we just started eliminating lines while we were shooting. – Winding Refn

It was really more about two lonely, struggling people who found a way to be temporarily peaceful. – Carey Mulligan, Irene

I’ve always worked a lot with silence in my films. Silence is the loudest sound in the world. – Winding Refn

Irene: What do you do?
Driver: I drive.


The way Ryan Gosling and Carey Mulligan were approaching their characters: their intuitive quietness, and the way they expressed themselves more through behaviour than words, really informed the way the film looked. – Sigel

There has to be a balance. You need one if you’re going to have the other, and that’s very important to the film. Action and violence and all those things are mechanics, so if you’re not emotionally invested they have no meaning, other than that they are very loud. – Winding Refn

I draw a lot of inspiration from what would be considered "real" lighting, but ultimately I regard lighting as a character, as something which is trying to make a statement in terms of story. I look for a way to do it which is expressive but has credibility. – Sigel

Driver: Is he a bad guy?
Benicio: Yeah.
Driver: How can you tell?
Benicio: Because he’s a shark.
Driver: There’s no good sharks?

We wanted to make a film that was hard-hitting without being macho. It needed a certain tenderness and purity. – Gosling

She was stuck in a tower and he was the knight in shining armour. It was kept on very simple terms. – Mulligan


The doors open, revealing TAN SUIT. Neither Driver or Irene recognises him but we do. He smiles, pretending to look confused. She steps into the elevator. Driver follows her in. – Drive

The only moment like that – that is meant to be fantasy or a dream – is the one time that they kiss. The kiss is a diversion. It's represented in the lighting, you are going away from reality for a moment into the internal reality of these two characters, their love, but also what could be or might be or is, before it’s completely contrasted with the ultimate act of violence that forever keeps them from being together. – Sigel

Scene after scene is suspended in exquisite tension, by turns romantic and murderous – and, in one notable instance, both. – Orr

In Cannes, the audience is cheering. Some clap. I'm one of them. A nervous, cathartic laugh escapes me as I watch a man's face being stamped beyond existence. Holy... an hour of quiet, sustained tension released in 20 seconds of ultra-violence ...shit.

I called Gaspar [Noé], and then we met in Paris, and, there, he told me how they had done it in Irreversible. I figured, “might as well ask the master of that kind of thing,” you know? – Winding Refn

Like sex. It’s all about the build-up. – Winding Refn

Driver stands there, covered in Tan Suit’s blood. The elevator doors finally close, hiding Irene from view. – Drive

The first half of this movie is like Pretty in Pink with a head smash. Love without the complications. But then he has to protect her, and it goes in the exact opposite direction. – Gosling

The minute she’s seen that, she really can’t go back. – Sigel

I knew that he wasn’t going to make a conventional movie. When the credits kicked in with the pink italics and the soundtrack, I thought, of course. It’s completely insane. – Mulligan

I’m a fetish filmmaker. I create images that I would like to see myself without always understanding it. I make films in this manner, creating stories that I want to see based on these impulses. – Winding Refn

My eyes have not seen the likes of this before. – ric RA, Rotten Tomatoes

I felt the electronic score counterbalanced the masculinity of the car world. It had to be very feminine, almost antique, electronic sounds. Kraftwerk, Brian Eno, really '80s stuff. I had Cliff Martinez emulate that sound. – Winding Refn

I did the whole score. They weren’t able to use any of it. For a movie that’s not even an hour and a half, I have 14 minutes of music, which is awesome. But I recorded three hours of music. – Johnny Jewell, contributor

I would use that music to give me inspiration. A bit like a fetish. It would give me images, because I don't do drugs any more. – Winding Refn

The book is a 100-page existentialist novel about a stuntman in Los Angeles. I guess Universal didn’t get high on that. They wanted to make it about a wheelman, like The Fast and the Furious. I believe it was designed for Hugh Jackman to star. But it never got made. They never greenlit it. – Winding Refn

Neil Marshall has signed with Universal to direct Drive, an adaptation of the James Sallis novel. Hugh Jackman is attached to play a Hollywood stunt driver who moonlights as a getaway car driver in heists. Hossein Amini wrote the script. – Variety

We took out all the dialogue and only kept what was necessary. – Gosling

When Nicolas and I first met, it didn’t go very well. We weren’t going to make the movie. He didn’t talk to me. I turned on the radio and REO Speedwagon’s “Can’t Fight This Feeling” came on, and Nicolas started crying. Then he started singing, and said, “This is it." – Gosling

Ryan and I have a very telekinetic relationship, we’re like one mind. – Winding Refn

In retrospect, he said he was high on cough medicine, so that’s that. – Gosling

A Michigan woman has filed a lawsuit against both the distributor of Drive and the owner of the multiplex where she saw the film, claiming that the trailer misled the public. – Washington Post

Said advertising promoted the film Drive as very similar to the Fast and Furious series of movies. Drive bore very little similarity to a chase, or race action film, for reasons including but not limited to Drive having very little driving in the motion picture.

Drive was a gratuitously, extremely graphically violent film. – Complaint filed on behalf of Sarah Deming

What on earth is the point of a jobsworth getaway driver who downs tools after five minutes? The naivety and absurdity sit uncomfortably with all that super-cool violence. – Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian

Drive is the coolest movie around and therefore the latest proof that cool is never cool enough. – Scott

I heard great things. It’s a shame they were all lies. – AllHailTheOgreLord, Rotten Tomatoes

In Cannes, the credits roll. Everybody stands, applauding. The whole theatre on their feet. Rapturous. We clap for five, maybe ten minutes, spending pent-up adrenaline. A few days later, Winding Refn wins Best Director from a festival jury led by Robert DeNiro.

The guy that had personified the type of character Ryan played ends up giving the award for Best Director. It was just me and Ryan there. It was very moving. – Winding Refn

A Cannes critic’s guilty "mainstream" pleasure is a multiplex viewer’s art movie. – Jamie Graham, Total Film

Refn doesn’t pretend to have invented any of this stuff; his movie is 90 percent unapologetic homage. – Stephanie Zacharek, Movieline

Sometimes a movie knows you’re watching it. It knows how to hold and keep you, how, when it’s over, to make you want it all over again. – Wesley Morris, Boston Globe

Drive reminded me of what it can be like—what it ought to be, but so infrequently is, like – to go out to the movies. I was buzzing when I left the theater. I’m buzzing still. – Orr

Damn, it’s good. Maybe you’ll hate it. – Travers

Why am I not this cool? – AR Kirk, Rotten Tomatoes

Driver’s face is completely still now. So are his eyes. He looks almost at peace. There’s a long pause, then slowly he leans forward and turns on the ignition. As the engine comes to life, we CUT TO BLACK. – Drive