Drive Screenplay

Violence drives Drive… Refn creates a fever dream that sucks you in. Or maybe you’ll hate it. Drive is a polarizer. It’s also pure cinema, a grenade of image and sound ready to blow. 1

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Drive: The History

Drive Screenplay History

Based on a novel written by James Sallis, Drive was optioned by producers Marc E. Platt and Adam Siegel not long after it was published. Each producer was drawn to the material for different reasons, but for Platt, there was a nostalgia factor that brought him back to childhood heroes like Steve McQueen and Clint Eastwood. According to Platt…

I was very taken with this little crime story that James Sallis wrote. I felt that the way the world was presented in the book demanded that its true grit be retained in the script. The grit comes from seeing the world from the point of view of Driver in the car. It’s those elements that I felt were critical to retain to make this film a very unique cinematic experience. 2

Adapted by Hossein Amini, the screenplay was a challenge for Amini because the story was non-linear, told with many flashbacks. For a studio film, he felt it was a rare book to adapt because it was short, gloomy and like a poem. According to Amini…

What I loved is that the novelist James Sallis, had these extraordinary characters with a very simple plot running through it; this tiny subplot of a getaway driver getting involved in a bank robbery that goes wrong and then has the mafia coming after him. 3

Drive was originally setup as a vehicle for Hugh Jackman with director Neil Marshall attached in 2008. Their version never got off the ground, but the project eventually found its way to Ryan Gosling. Gosling signed on and chose Danish filmmaker Nicolas Winding Refn as the film’s director.

DRIVEN: The Sequel

James Sallis didn’t waste any time. Driven, Drive’s sequel, will be released on April 3rd. I’ve read that both Ryan Gosling and Nicholas Winding Refn have expressed interest in shooting the film version. Book descrption from

Driven James SallisDriven is the sequel to Drive, now also an award-winning film. As we exit the initial novel, Driver has killed Bernie Rose, “the only one he ever mourned,” ending his campaign against those who double-crossed him. Driven tells how that young man, done with killing, later will become the one who goes down “at 3 a.m. on a clear, cool morning in a Tijuana bar.”   Seven years have passed. Driver has left the old life, become Paul West, and founded a successful business back in Phoenix. Walking down the street one day, he and his fiancee are attacked by two men and, while Driver dispatches both, his fiancee is killed.   Sinking back into anonymity, aided by his friend Felix, an ex-gangbanger and Desert Storm vet, Driver retreats, but finds that his past stalks him and will not stop. He has to turn and face it.

Drive: The Theme

Drive Screenplay Theme

Automobiles are free of egotism, passion, prejudice and stupid ideas about where to have dinner. They are, literally, selfless. A world designed for automobiles instead of people would have wider streets, larger dining rooms, fewer stairs to climb and no smelly, dangerous subway stations.

~P.J. O’Rourke

Driver’s a loner. His boss and driver pimp, Shannon, is his only connection to the outside world. Shannon is a former Hollywood stunt driver turned small business man who has carved a life for himself in just getting by. Discovering a man with Driver’s talent, well, Shannon knows how to exploit him to pay their bills. You get the sense Driver is grateful, but nothing they do puts him on a track to change.


You know, a lot of guys mess around with married women, but you’re the only one I know who robs a joint just to pay back the husband.

True fulfillment comes from sacrificing something for someone with no expectation or benefits. Driver acts as a surrogate husband and father to Irene and Benicio without asking for her love in return. He puts his freedom at risk to protect them from Standard’s prison debts. He kills anyone who intends to bring them harm. He has a purpose in life.

Drive: The Structure

Drive Script Albert Brooks as Bernie Rose

A strong external goal is absent through the first half of the film. Driver doesn’t seem to have an interest in racing. There’s no thrill in moonlighting as getaway driver. The mechanic in him is more a means to an end. There’s an absence of anything that truly turns his world upside down until he meets Irene and her son Benicio.

Drive cruises on internal goals its first fifty-six minutes. It’s all about what he feels looking after Irene and Benicio. He helps them out at the grocery store when their car breaks down. When she finds her way to the shop where he works as a mechanic, Driver lets them inside his world. You get the feeling he’s been waiting to share it for some time. The end of the first act marks a turn where Driver takes an active role in their lives.

Standard, Irene’s husband, is released from prison early in the second act. Driver backs away from the situation and lets the family have their space, but when Standard’s prison debts put his family in danger, Driver agrees to act as a getaway driver in a pawn shop robbery to pay off the creditors.

Standard’s death marks the midpoint of the film. From that point forward, Driver’s external goal becomes the predominant focus of the film: to protect Irene and Benicio. And it’s seeped in typical beats you’ll find in most crime films. There’s an assumption of power when he discovers the pawn shop robbery ties back to Nino. The big turn is facing off against Nino’s thug the apartment building. His decision is perhaps the most shocking and violent scene in the film, but regardless of what you think about it, it sets up the tone of the third act. In the third act, Driver’s character arc is complete: He goes from a loner with an unfulfilled life, to a man who gives everything to protect the woman and child he loves.

  1. Travers, Peter. “Drive | Movie Reviews | Rolling Stone.” 15 Sept. 2011. Web. 25 Feb. 2012. Link.
  2. Drive Press Kit: The Adaption”. FilmDistrict. 2011. Link.
  3. Drive Press Kit: The Adaption”. FilmDistrict. 2011. Link.
William Robert Rich
William Robert Rich

William Robert Rich is a story analyst, screenwriter, and co-author of Story Maps: The Films of Christopher Nolan. He's currently based in Austin, Texas.

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