Why Drive has Hollywood’s smartest car chase

The 2011 thriller Drive has arguably the smartest car chase in cinema, as Ryan Gosling’s character actively eschews classic Hollywood tropes.

Car chases after bank robberies in the movies usually involve high-speed thrills and overt destruction. In To drive, however, it was quite the opposite. In the opening scene of the 2011 neo-noir thriller, Ryan goslingThe character of Driver, takes a unique and brilliant approach to accomplish a daring job of night escapism. Let’s take a look at why this is arguably the smartest car chase in cinema.

The main reason is that Gosling’s character used stealth rather than speed to escape. The first way he was successful was through the car he was driving. In the majority of Hollywood’s top car chases, the protagonist typically drives some sort of sports car or muscle car that is the opposite of stealth. In To drive, Mechanic Shannon played by Bryan Cranston supplies Driver with a silver 2011 Chevrolet Impala. At the time, it was one of the most popular cars in America and a perfect way to hide in plain sight. The vehicle itself was left untouched on the outside, but under the hood it was modified to give the modest Chevrolet the extra performance needed to outrun the police.

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Another way Driver achieved this was by speeding up only when the police spotted him, as well as using the night to his advantage. When the thieves got back into the car, rather than rushing off, Gosling’s character took off slowly and followed the speed limit. Not only did this draw much less attention to him, it also allowed him to assess the situation with more clarity. Additionally, on several occasions during the chase, Driver used unlit alleys and side streets to hide from police patrols and searchlights. He also used a scanner to eavesdrop on police radio conversations in order to plan his directions accordingly.

Most importantly, Driver only went fast in very short bursts during the chase. It was only when he was directly spotted by the police. For example, Driver came face to face with a patrol car at a red light. Rather than running away immediately, he waited patiently until the light turned green and he had audible confirmation that the police had identified him and then acted. With surgical precision, he drove past the patrol car and within seconds managed to avoid his pursuer.

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The destination driver chose to drop the car, and his passengers also took into account the glamor of this pursuit. In Hollywood, car chases often end in a massive accident where the protagonist leaves their car in a very secluded location. To drive, again, looked nothing like the norm. The driver chose to drop his car at Staples Center during an NBA game, one of the biggest venues in Los Angeles. He had the match on the radio during the chase, listening to the progress of the match so he could perfectly time his entry until the end of the match. This meant that at the end of the chase, he drove straight into the venue’s parking lot, got out and walked away, effortlessly blending into the outgoing crowd.

The stylistic choices of director Nicolas Winding Refn also have a lot to do with it. The entire chase is filmed from the inside, on the bumper or the back of the car. It was very successful for the dynamics of the scene as it allowed the audience to experience the chase as if they were in the car with Driver. This, combined with the grainy, pulsating soundtrack of the synth waves, created a thrilling roller coaster of building and releasing tension throughout the sequence.

The opening scene of To drive is arguably Hollywood’s smartest car chase because it’s so different. He takes every Hollywood car chase trope and throws it out the window. Plus, it’s not just the ideas that make him smart, but the execution of those ideas that perfectly sets the tone for one of the most unique thrillers of the 2010s.

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