Drive

drive-1Today we revisit the past with another of the recovered reviews from the internet archive. I am not revising the question format this time from the old nine questions to the new five questions.

I could argue I’m doing this because it would be nice to see the progression in my reviewing approach over the five years I have been doing this, but that would only be true by accident.

The real reason I haven’t revised this is because my new day job is eating up all my time and I want to get something published. Accidental truths be damned, I don’t want this blog to grow dusty!

This script has been an albatross around my neck for a long time now. The near sanctity of its reputation in screenwriting circles diverged sharply from how I would rate the final product that is the Nicolas Refn film with the same name. Dissonance like that requires an investigation.

It occured to me that Drive the Screenplay by Amini, and Drive the Film by Refn, might make a great case study in competing “visions”. (I put visions in quotes to dissociate myself from the pretentiousness I see in this debate. As a consumer of stories, I could care less about whose vision takes precedence—the writer’s or the director’s—I just want to consume a good story.) In spite of my antipathy, I can’t help thinking that Drive might be a sort of landmark case that demonstrates, once and for all, how Hollywood’s idolization of The Director is really bad for it as a business.

You can tell from that last sentence, that I did not enjoy the film that much. I thought it was an interesting movie to watch but I had zero attachment to it beyond the visual.

A more sympathetic critic might want to defend this experience of mine as being exactly what Refn intended. We are not, this critic might say, meant to connect emotionally with Driver. So close is Refn’s Driver to the realm of Anti/Super Hero, that the only way to view him is through the lens of his own warped Kantianism. Driver, this critic might continue, REALLY gets the Categorical Imperative. He takes his personal universal maxim it to its logical, inhuman, conclusion:

I survive you.

Though I don’t want to admit it, because I think it’s philosophically rotten, this critic has a point. You can will a world in which your universal maxim is, I survive you. Who cares that in this world which obtains you can’t love, feel joy, or be personally fulfilled? It’s a world full of terminators in which all the participants agree to never shoot first.

But, just because you can say something consistent doesn’t mean you OUGHT to say it.

Now that we have discussed the movie, and seen the litmus test potential between this script and its movie for passing judgment on the cinematic pecking order, let’s see how Drive, the Screenplay, fares against the 9 questions.

1. Can “we see” the description? A.) Are the images clear and appropriate? B.) Are the sentences free of typos and grammatical errors? (each part worth 5 points)

Part A) Here are our opening images:

EXT. AERIAL VIEW OF L.A. STREETS AND FREEWAYS – NIGHT.

Car lights glitter down below, flickering across the endless
network of streets and freeways that span the L.A. basin. From
above, the city looks like an electronic grid. Or a maze. The
tiny pinpricks of red and white light move in different
directions, but never seem to find their way out. Over these
images, we hear a man’s voice:

I like this enough. It does set the claustrophobic tone of trappedness in motion; and the combination of words is pleasing to read. On the other hand, it also begins a precedent which continues throughout much of the script—thick description blocks. These aren’t Charlie Kaufmann thick, but overindulged nonetheless.

Another example from page 61:

INT/ EXT. DRIVER’S CAR/ BANK/ TOPANGA CANYON BOULEVARD – DAY.

Driver casts his eyes around the street, observing the smallest
details — the number plates of other parked vehicles; passersby
on the sidewalks; the windows of overlooking buildings. Across
the street, he sees Dave the cowboy stroll into the bank.

INT. BANK/ TOPANGA CANYON BOULEVARD/ TARZANA- DAY.

Dave joins a line at one of the Teller’s windows, also wearing
his sunglasses. Standard waits in the line next to him. Both of
them keep their heads down, hoping no-one gets a good look at
them. They needn’t worry. The bank’s too crowded for anyone to
pay attention to anyone else. The only exception is Blanche,
who’s sitting at the MANAGER’s desk, charming him with her naive
questions.

INT/ EXT. DRIVER’S CAR/ BANK/ TOPANGA CANYON BOULEVARD – DAY.

drive imageA sleek black Lincoln Continental glides past Driver’s car and
stops outside the bank. Cook climbs out, dressed in a business
suit, carrying a large briefcase. Driver watches the Lincoln
drive on, disappearing down the street.

INT. BANK/ TOPANGA CANYON BOULEVARD/ TARZANA- DAY.

There’s only one CUSTOMER left between Standard and the Teller
now. Standard glances at the guards nervously. One of them looks
like he should have retired a long time ago, but the other one
is young and fit. The YOUNG GUARD stares at him briefly, then
turns away as Cook finally strolls through the door.

I wanted to quote more of this but it would have made the review hard to read. Even in truncated form, I think most writers could agree that this is over described.

On principle, I would break these chunks into smaller pieces. I believe it’s just true that the presentation of the words on the page adds to the feeling produced by the meaning of the words. In this scene, specifically, the author is going for an out of control, hurtling, sensation. The thick blocks of text do not add to this sensation.

But Amini is a well established pro, so I’ll quibble with things other than the blocks themselves.

Under the first slugline, do we need “observing the smallest details” or can we just get the observations themselves.

Under the second slugline do we need, “They needn’t worry. The bank’s too crowded for anyone to pay attention to anyone else.” or, “The only exception is Blanche”. Aren’t these things evident from the rest of the description of the bank setting?

Beneath the last slugline, why do we need to orient through Standard to see the guards? The guards are there regardless of Standard. Because of this, I think the line, “Standard glances at the guards nervously”, is unnecessary.

These suggestions only trim a small percentage of the total words and, because of that, might seem like pedantic criticism. However, I really do believe that eliminating every redundant word from a script makes the finished product appreciably better. Besides, if you’re going to insist on writing in blocks, you should probably make sure they are as small as they can be.

2 out of 5 points.

Part B) There were very few typos.

5 out of 5 points.

2. Does the writer use proper format?

I don’t like the way the sluglines are formatted. Strange combinations of locations by way of slashes, periods at the end, and an overuse of INT/EXT, but, really, taking off any points for that would be pedantic.

10 out of 10 points.

3. Is the dialogue (a) free of exposition and (b) rich in subtext? This will include (c) unique voices for each character.

Part A) The exposition in this script is handled masterfully. To see this clearly, I want to list each of the major characters. They are:

Driver
Irina
Benicio
Shannon
Standard
Bernie Rose

These characters are brought into orbit in the Drive solar system because of the broken nature of each of their backstories. If you are going to break your characters in their backstory (and you should) then at some point, you are going to have to tell us what happened to them. You will be forced into exposition. This script is masterful in that it waits as long as it can to tell us. We don’t learn that:

Driver grew up in foster homes and his mother shot and killed his criminal father until page 58 and page 116, respectively…

Standard is Irina and Benicio’s backstory until page 32…

Shannon lost most of his will to participate in society after his stunt driving accident until page 24…

Bernie Rose has to back Nino no matter what until page 103…

… and yet, the information in these backstories is the reason each of these characters does what they do. Impressive:

4 out of 4 points.

Part B) Subtext represents my first opportunity to stress the degree to which the script is resoundingly better than the film. The dominant subtext, which courses throughout the entire story and deepens as it flows, concerns what it means to be a good father to a son.

If we list the characters again, we find…

Shannon is father to Driver

Driver is father to Benicio

Standard is also father to Benicio

Bernie Rose is father to Nino. (This one is a stretch, but I don’t think it’s unintended. Even though Bernie and Nino are the same age, there is a strong sense in which Bernie is the grown-up who takes care of things and Nino is the kid who keeps making messes for the grown-up to clean up.)

We’ll discuss in question 8 how this subtext plays out in terms of theme. For now, I’ll just cite some of my favorite examples. The first is from page 9:

Shannon slides out from under the car and limps up on his bad
leg. He frowns as he sees the plate of healthy looking salads.

SHANNON
You putting me on a diet?

DRIVER
Don’t want you having a heart attack. Who’s
gonna look after ‘Miss Dickinson’? •..

The next is from page 13:

BERNIE ROSE
How can you be sure? What have you got
these big shot teams don’t have?

SHANNON
I got a driver.

BERNIE ROSE
You just told me they had half a dozen
drivers.

SHANNON
Not like this one •..

Shannon stares at his friend with quiet conviction now.

SHANNON
I’ve been looking after this guy a long
time. I had enough money I’d back him
myself …
(A beat)
I’m telling you, Bernie, put this kid
behind a wheel there’s nothing he can’t do.

From 56:

SHANNON
Luck has nothing to do with it because
you’re disciplined, you stick to the rules.
You tired of them, you wanna regular life,
I understand, but then don’t get mixed up
with this bum ..•

He stares at Driver with a mixture of concern and exasperation.

SHANNON
A lotta guys fall for other mens’ wives,
but you’re the only one I know robs banks
to make it up to the husband ..•

Driver smiles back, wiping his hands on a cloth.

SHANNON
Hell, why can’t you just make a pass at
her •••

And one more from page 80:

drive-still03BERNIE ROSE
This friend a close friend? …

SHANNON
Yeah …

BERNIE ROSE
That’s too bad •.•

He throws a friendly arm around Shannon’s shoulder.

BERNIE ROSE
You want my advice? …

Shannon looks at him anxiously.

BERNIE ROSE
Don’t take pills for other people’s
headaches •.•

That one is particularly good because Bernie can’t take his own advice.

The subtext in this script was well done and deserving of more points than I can give it:

2 out of 2 points.

Part C) The character individuation was also first rate. The characters struck me as speaking with the voices of their backstories. There would be no problem recognizing them without their cues.

4 out of 4 points.

4. Does the writer understand the challenges and rewards posed by the medium in which he’s chosen to tell his story? Shorthand version of this is: Is it a movie and not a play?

Yeah, of course this one has the car chases, bank robberies, and violence typically reserved for our medium. Thankfully, there is depth beneath the surface bluster.

I like action and tension as much as the next guy in line at the ticket counter. Of course (and this is one of Carson’s mantras) it doesn’t mean much if you don’t care about the characters.

10 out of 10 points.

5. Is there anything unique in what the writer presents? Basically, do I have to hire THIS writer in order to get his original take on things? Are the rest of the writer’s ideas, based on this sample, likely to be original?

Since this is based on source material, it is somewhat hard to rate the originality of the story. What I can say is that the craftsmanship on display is top tier—with no reservations. Even the mildly annoying description blocks can’t fully distract from the notion that this author knows how to do what he is being paid to do.

10 out of 10 points.

6. Do we have a hook (the first 2 pages)?

The first 2 are okay. I like the mystery set up in the first two lines of voiceover from Driver. I also like the fact that he moves from one apartment to another—so quickly and with zero flourishes. The spartan nature of this move is interesting in itself.

After this, though, we meet Shannon and have some reserved back and forth over the dietary benefits of eating at Denny’s. This was okay. It definitely didn’t make me want to quit reading, but I can’t help thinking it makes more sense to go straight from the new apartment into the getaway surrounding the Clipper’s game. I think, in other words, that the second page is a bit of a waste—especially considering the excellent tension in the pages which follow it.

8 out of 15 points.

7. Is the hook effective (the next 8 pages)?

The extended scene from 3-9 of Driver using the Civic, acting as a “wheelman”, is a pretty brilliant way to establish the hook of this script. We learn from this that Driver is smart, he’s about the best car driver on the planet, and he is eminently resourceful.

Blogger types always say that you should give your protagonist room to improve as the story progresses. I like how the opening of this script serves as counterpoint to that argument. Sometimes it is more fun to see exactly how impressive the protagonist really is. This will make us look forward, with exaggerated expectation, to the plot points in the story that will challenge the hero. (There Will Be Blood is another script which begins with the strength of the protagonist rather than his weakness.)

Pages 9-10 introduce us to the father/son dynamic which permeates the relationship between Shannon and Driver. This set-up begins with the already cited subtextual resonance in the salad Driver brings Shannon to eat. A whole dynamic summed up by a couple of vegatables. Also impressive:

15 out of 15 points.

8. Are there enough reveals to maintain the initial hook?

Since I think the plot points all work, I’d rather spend the time this question deserves talking about how the theme (what makes a father a Good Father) precipitates through the violent detritus of the core of this story. I thought it was rewarding. (In marked contrast to the film version where it is abandoned after Shannon’s death—a plot choice mistake that arose somewhere after this version of the script.)

What we are given in this story is several versions of Father. Each one of these versions understands the primary duty of a father toward his son—protection.

Driver and Standard both SAY they want to protect Benicio.

Shannon SAYS he wants to protect Driver.

And in the widest possible swath the story cuts, Bernie Rose SAYS he wants to protect Nino.

Of these four father types, two succeed and two fail. (There is, I have to point out, excellent symmetry in how the author balances his types equally on the seesaw of fatherhood.) We will track down the theme of this movie if we uncover how it is that Driver and Shannon succeed in protecting their “sons”, and contrast this to how Standard and Bernie Rose fail.

Standard backs up his protection words with a really bizarre deed. He robs a bank.

Somehow Standard equates robbing this bank and using the money from the job to pay off a prison debt, as protecting his son from harm. The prison bad guys say they will kill Standard’s wife and son if he doesn’t do what they ask, so there is a twisted sort of logic to Standard’s thinking.

But, if Standard loves his son as much as he says he does, two questions are begged:

1. Why is he always in situations like this to begin with?
2. Why did he come home to his wife and son and put them so prominently in the crosshairs?

Clearly, he doesn’t love his son as much as he SAYS he does.

Similarly, Bernie Rose seeks to protect the juvenile Nino, even though he knows Nino is in the wrong. Bernie’s big mistake is agreeing with Nino that it’s okay to kill Driver. In misreading the relentlessness of Driver, Bernie dooms his “son” Nino.

Now let’s look at Shannon. All he ever does is try and get Driver out of the maze. Remember the opening images:

Car lights glitter down below, flickering across the endless
network of streets and freeways that span the L.A. basin. From
above, the city looks like an electronic grid. Or a maze. The
tiny pinpricks of red and white light move in different
directions, but never seem to find their way out.

drive-stills-carey-mulligan-25094715-2000-1331The problem is the city itself. It’s broken all these characters and trapped them inside it. Shannon knows that there is no life without an escape. Escape is all he offers, and is his constant refrain.

Shannon sees the truth. You can’t protect your son from this city, all you can do is get him out of it.

When this fails, and Driver STILL ends up in danger, he gives Driver a fast car and a gun with a silencer. He sends him out into the city prepared to play by its rules.

Driver recognizes the truth Shannon teaches and uses it to protect Benicio. From page 90:

DRIVER
You could always come with me •.•

We feel the impact of his words on her — the tiniest reaction
on her face — a thousand thoughts rushing through her mind.

DRIVER
You said you wanted to take Benicio away
from here. What’s stopping you?

She stares out in confusion.

IRINA
I don’t even know you …

DRIVER
You will. Once I straighten out this thing,
I’m getting out for good. We’ll go some
place. Anywhere you want •…

Irina shakes her head, resisting the thing she wants most in the
world right now.

IRINA
This is just talk

DRIVER
You don’t believe me, we’ll turn the car
around, go pick up Benicio –

He tries to square Standard’s debt and then get out, but the city won’t let him off that easy. In this city, you are forced to pay more than you owe. After he loses Irina, he realizes that he has to kill everyone from the city that might go looking for Benicio. The city demands a tragedy as payment for its version of a happy ending.

The script ends with Benicio in Shannon’s care OUTSIDE the city. Driver will not be going to raise him. He has learned the final lesson that Standard never could learn. Sometimes protecting someone means leaving them alone.

That’s a cold lesson, and I will take off some points just for its dreariness. The fact is, though, it is solidly executed– in spite of its dreariness:

8 out of 10 points.

9. Does the script recognize the size of its most likely audience, and deliver a story with a realizable profit?

76 million worldwide on a budget of 15 million. Certainly enough to get all the points, but I will say that I believe a film which adhered closer to the original version of the script would have done even better.

10 out of 10 points.

Total Score: 88

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