Subtle Screenwriting Scratches that Itch.
“How bout this? Shut your mouth. Or I’ll kick your teeth down your throat and I’ll shut it for you.”
Premise: A stunt driver moonlighting as a getaway driver gets caught up in a job that’s over his head.
About: Drive is adapted from James Sallis’ novel of the same name and will star Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan, and…Albert Brooks? Relatively unknown Nicolas Winding Refn will direct. Bryan Cranston, whose stock is building hourly with his show “Breaking Bad,” is also said to be cast in the film. The writer, Hossein Amini has a half a dozen produced credits, the most well-known of which might be “The Four Feathers,” starring Kate Hudson and Heath Ledger. Personally, I would’ve cast Brooks in the role of Shannon. But man, if he can somehow pull off the heavy role, his career’s going to have a huge resurgence.
Screenwriter: Hossein Amini (adapted from the novel by James Sallis)
Details: 121 pages – undated (This is an early draft of the script. The situations, characters, and plot may change significantly by the time the film is released. This is not a definitive statement about the project, but rather an analysis of this unique draft as it pertains to the craft of screenwriting).
Is Drive the thinking man’s “Fast and Furious?” That’s what I thought when I first heard about the project. When hardcore thespian Ryan Gosling teams up with critical darling It Girl Carey Mulligan on a film titled Drive, it’s the equivalent of hearing Oprah’s interviewing the cast of Jersey Shore. The two worlds just don’t collide. Was Gosling tired of all the serious roles and wanted to have some fun? Did Mulligan simply sign up to work with Gosling? Truth be told, I didn’t know what to expect when I opened Drive, and through the first 20 pages, I found the script chugging along as if it hadn’t had an oil change since 2003. But as this story unfolded, I realized we were on the cusp of a potentially great film. We may start out on the backroads, but we end up at the Indy 500.
Drive is a richly layered script with lots of moving parts but I’m going to try and simplify it for you. Our hero on this journey is nameless. We refer to him only as “Driver.” Yes, I thought this was pretentious too. But fire up the dual climate control. It gets better.
Driver is a stunt driver for movies shooting in the greater Los Angeles area. But because that doesn’t pay the bills, he moonlights as a getaway driver. Driver isn’t an ordinary getaway driver however. He works independently. You tell him where to be and when to be there and he’ll get you to safety, guaranteed. He doesn’t want to know what you’re stealing, how much you’re stealing, or what you plan to do with it. His only job is to outrun the cops and at that, he’s the best.
As you might have guessed, Driver isn’t the social type (he doesn’t even have a real name!) but the one person he trusts more than anyone is wily veteran stunt driver, Shannon, the man who hooks him up with these getaway jobs. Shannon’s getting tired of this dangerous lifestyle though and has a long-term goal in mind for his Mario Andretti’esque superstar. He wants to buy a car and have Driver race it competitively – get out from all this seedy underworld shit.
So Driver moves into a new place and meets his gorgeous neighbor, Irina, along with her young son. Although Driver prefers to take the Robert DiNero from Heat approach to relationships, he can’t help but fall for Irina. Pretty soon he’s over there every free chance he gets. This is trouble, however, since Irina’s husband, the gangbanging Standard, gets out of jail early, crashing any chance at romance. And I get the feeling he doesn’t come with passenger side airbags.
Standard smells Driver’s intentions but he also smells a criminal and right now he needs a criminal. Bad. Standard owes some bad people a lot of money and if they don’t get it soon, it ain’t Standard they’re going to make pay. It’s that cute wife and son of his. Standard lays it all out for Driver. He needs him to drive getaway on a bank robbery so that he can pay these thugs back.
Driver never deals with criminals this low on the totem pole but he knows this woman he’s fallen for is in danger and therefore has no choice. Driver tries to do it by his rules – just tell him where to be – but these men want to meet him, want to know who they’re entrusting their money to. He’s pulled in a little deeper than usual, exposing his identity, and that will come back to haunt him later.
The bank robbery is the central set piece and it’s the moment where I officially fell in love with this script. Whatever you think is going to happen, you’re wrong. And I’m not going to spoil it for you because it deserves to be read, but let’s just say nothing goes as planned and afterwards, nothing is the same, creating an intense and seriously awesome game of cat and mouse for the last sixty pages. If you like movies, you will love this script, period.
Drive starts off like an 88 Ford Taurus. Sllloooowww. I’ve seen giraffes shorter than these blocks of text. It was strange because I was already planning my review as I read these first 20 pages and it was going to focus on how huge blocks of text kill a screenplay, whether you’re an amateur or a professional. Oops. I’m not going to say I loved the writing style and part of me thinks he wrote it this way in order to keep it under 120, but I can tell you by the end, the story was so good I wouldn’t have cared if he told it in iambic pentameter.
The victories of this script are too numerous to count but Drive reminded me, once again, what every great script has in common. GREAT CHARACTERS. It all starts with the protagonist, who has to be complex on some level, and Driver aces this exam easily. See we always love watching heroes who bestow a moral code on immoral actions because of the built-in irony. Driver is a getaway driver who refuses to get mixed up in the nuts and bolts of his jobs. He’s “just” the driver, so technically he’s not doing anything wrong. I don’t know why but this always works in movies.
I also love how all the characters here have something going on and the dynamic that creates whenever they’re together. Driver wants something. Irina wants something. Standard wants something. Shannon wants something. Even the kid wants something. Every character here wants something and THEY WANT IT BADLY and that’s usually the basis for a great character piece.
There’s this scene early on in the second act where Driver, Irina, Standard, and the boy are all together that rocks the house because of this pre-established dynamic. Driver wants Irina but knows he can’t have her. Irina wants Driver but knows she can’t have him. Standard senses they like each other but he needs Driver, so he can’t do anything to him. Driver would never lie to Irina, but knows he must keep his job with Standard a secret to protect her. Irina suspects Driver and Standard may be in cahoots, but she can’t prove it. Irina loves Driver but can’t let Standard know. The kid is torn between his real father and Driver, who he’s developed a relationship with. There’s just A LOT OF SHIT GOING ON between everyone. Now, a nice normal dinner scene turns into the greatest fucking scene ever because there’s SO MUCH going on underneath the surface.
I could keep going on. I love how we learn everything about Driver through his ACTIONS and not what he says (because he rarely says anything). In the very first scene, the initial getaway scene, he barely says anything and we find out that he’s crafty, clever, calm, and collected, and a leader – everything we need to know about him moving forward.
You know I always say that I don’t like crime/mob films and people ask me why and I say, “Cause they’re always the same.” Some guy’s dealing drugs. Some other guy rats him out. Someone kills someone. Someone else kills someone in retaliation. This was my big problem with Richard Price’s 36. It was all just basic boring cliché criminal stuff. I’ve always said, “Show me a crime/mob film that does something different and I’ll be interested.” And that’s exactly what Drive does. This script goes through so many permutations, starting off as a getaway driver film, moving into a relationship film, and finally morphing into a crime thriller. It was just so different and unique and unpredictable. In the end, that’s what every reader is looking for. A compelling well-told story told from a slightly different angle.
People have been upset with the fact that a film titled “Drive” doesn’t end with a huge car chase but this never bothered. I think it’s because by the end, I only cared about the characters. I didn’t care if they were digging a hole to china or jumping out of an airplane. Even the last shot of the movie is character driven and it’s one of the most poetic coolest endings I’ve read in this genre. If they do this right, I’m telling you, people are going to win Oscars.
[ ] What the hell did I just read?
[ ] wasn’t for me
[ ] worth the read
[x] impressive (Top 25!)
[ ] genius
What I learned: Have your characters hide things from each other (whether it be a secret or their true feelings — whatever) to create great subtext in your scenes. One of the reasons this script works so well is because of everything that’s going on UNDERNEATH the surface. Everyone is keeping something from everyone else and in most cases they’re keeping multiple things from each other. Driver has to keep from Irina that he’s working with Standard. Standard’s hiding what he plans to do to Driver once this job is over. Irina is hiding her love for Driver from Standard. Shannon is forced to hide things from the heavies and from Driver. Create a complicated dynamic between your characters and your scenes will reign with subtext. This is a great script to study for this and so many other reasons.