This is a noir style novel and usually those aren’t the kinds of stories I gravitate towards, but I really liked the writing style and the way the book is structured. It is also pretty short, so I like the Sallis keeps things tight while still be descriptive and bringing the characters to life.
I will say I found the plot hard to follow. I had the same problem with the LA Confidential book, so is it just to be expected when it comes to noir crime novels?? One reason it was hard to follow was because it jumps back and forth in time, but I wouldn’t want to lose that in favor of an easier plot. It was worth it to just go through it a second time.
I saw this movie back in 2011 and remember liking it a lot, but I only clearly remembered one scene (that elevator kiss) and honestly didn’t remember much else. But seriously, how many guys in 2011 started wearing the fingerless gloves and walking around with a toothpick in their mouth after this came out lol.
I am so glad I returned to this movie though because it was amazing! I will say, the violence goes from 0-60 pretty quick (driving pun lol). So be prepared for the violence, but I loved the casting and my eyes were just glued to the screen right from the start. We do get a couple great chase scenes which I loved! They weren’t as over the top as in some other movies, and were so suspenseful and tense!
The movie does make a number of changes, but I would say it kept the vibe of the book. And both book and movie are very atmospheric. Oh, and the soundtrack to the movie it also great. I used to ride my bike at night after work and I would listen to Nightcall and it just felt so cool.
From here on out there will be spoilers for both book and movie!
In order to prevent things from getting confusing (because the book and movie characters have the same names, yet the story itself is different), I am going to talk about the book plot first, and then the movie.
In the book we learn that Driver’s mom wasn’t all there mentally and his dad was a burglar who may have abused her (it seems to have been implied, unless I was reading into something that wasn’t there). One day the mom suddenly, and violently, kills the father in front of Driver. The state takes her, and Driver is then sent to different foster parents before living with the Smith’s. When he is almost 16, he steals their car and leaves. They were good to him, and he leaves a note apologizing for stealing their car.
He goes to LA (he had been in Tucson), and there he sees Shannon who is the top stunt driver. He walks up to Shannon in a bar and offers to buy him a drink and from there Shannon learns what a great driver he already is and gets him hooked up with different stunt work. Driver ends up getting his own manager and by the time the story starts, Shannon had died years ago when a stunt move went wrong.
Later in the book, Driver returns to Tucson and finds out his birth mother has died. Near the end of the book, he leaves money and a cat that belonged to a friend with the Smiths and leaves a note saying he hopes the money will make up for the car he stole years prior and asks them to adopt the cat.
We don’t get of information on his childhood in the movie.
Irena and Standard
In the book, Irena is a Hispanic woman in his building he starts hanging out with and he meets her son Benicio who he likes. She tells him Benicio’s dad is in jail, but they aren’t together anymore.
In the book this conversation reads,
“What about Benicio’s father?”
“We were married for about ten minutes. His name is Standard Guzman. First time I met him I asked, ‘Well, is there a deluxe Guzman somewhere around?’ and he just looked at me, didn’t get it at all.”
“What’s he do?”
“Lately he’s been into charity work, helping provide jobs for state workers.”
Driver was lost. Seeing his expression, she added:
“Prison, you mean?”
“That’s what I mean.”
I feel like that interaction right there gives you a feel for what Irena was like. Which is also a good example of Sallis’ writing. You are able to understand each character so well by showing us, not just telling. There’s really very little exposition in this book.
When Standard gets out of jail, he lives with her because he doesn’t have somewhere else to go but Standard is fine with Driver being around and isn’t jealous. In the book, he and Standard end up hanging out late some nights drinking beer and one night he asks him if he can be a getaway driver for him and Driver agrees. This job through Standard is how he gets becomes a getaway driver in the book.
They have a few successful jobs, but on the fourth job or so Standard ends up dying. Driver continues to see Irena and Benicio until one day she is shot and the cops suspect it is gang related. Benicio is taken to Mexico to live with Irena’s family and Driver stays in contact for a while until one day he calls them and the line is dead.
After this he is feeling lost and starts to hang out in places he knew Standard went to, and he mentions Standards name and tries to find new people to drive for. He gets robbery jobs and starts ditching his stunt work.
Cook and Blanche
A guy who is called Cook reaches out to him to drive for them and he does the job with a woman named Blanche and a guy named Strong. While Driver is waiting for them to do the job, another car pulls up. Blanche then runs to the car with the money and tells him to drive. Strong, the other guy, has been killed and the car in the parking lot chases them but eventually Driver loses it.
He and Blanche go to a motel to hide out and while there two guys who work for Cook show up and kill Blanche but Driver kills them before they get him.
He uses the car those two guys had been in to lure whoever was behind all this. Eventually Cook shows up and Driver kills him. He sees in Cook’s car a bunch of flyers for Nino’s pizza and calls Nino up.
Nino and Bernie
He and Nino agree to meet so Driver can give him the money and be out of the whole thing. However, Nino instead sends someone to kill Driver in the night, but Driver catches them. He then goes to the pizzeria and kills a guy who comes out to smoke.
Bernie and another guy find the body and go inside. We find out Bernie and Nino are partners and this robbery with Cook was something Nino had been doing on the side. Bernie is upset and basically tells Nino that once this is cleaned up, they are through.
Driver finds Nino’s address and kills Nino.
Bernie then calls up Driver and they area to meet and put the whole thing to rest.
When they talk, they are kind of on the same page with life and get along. A conversation they have at dinner reads, “Working their way through a second bottle of Cabernet-Merlot and the second inning of this expansive meal, ordinary life going on about them, they’d landed for the moment on a kind of island where they might pretend to be a part of it.
“Think we choose our lives?” Bernie Rose said as they cruised into coffee and cognac.
“No. But I don’t think they’re thrust upon us, either. What it feels like to me is, they’re forever seeping up under our feet.”
Bernie Rose nodded. “First time I heard about you, word was that you drove, that’s all you did.”
“True at the time. Times change.”
“Even if we don’t.””
When going their separate ways though, Bernie tries to kill Deriver but Driver ends up killing him instead and the book is set up in a way that shows up there will be sequels.
In the movie, Shannon owned a mechanic shop and Driver shows up, again probably in his late teens or something, and starts working for him. When Shannon sees what a great driver he is, he sets him up to be a stunt driver and as the years go on, he also hooks him up with criminals to be their getaway driver. Shannon has a messed-up hip in the movie, and we learn it is from a deal involving Nino that went wrong. In the movie, Shannon knows Nino and Bernie and approaches Bernie about investing in a racing car which Driver will race. Bernie goes for it, however things go awry before that ever takes off. None of this is in the book.
I gotta say, Bryan Cranston is amazing as Shannon. I read that he improvised a lot of his lines and is just so likeable! I also just love Cranston as a person (not that I know him personally of course, but still) so that helps.
Movie Irene and Standard
In the movie, Irene is white and as in the book she and Driver get to know each other. The movie spends more time with their romance and they don’t have much dialogue so it is in their expressions and chemistry that you feel their mutual attraction. She also has Benicio in the movie, and he is adorable. In the movie, Standard is Irene’s husband, and when he comes home it does seem that he is jealous of Driver, unlike the book.
In the book, Irena tells Driver that when she first met Standard, she asked if there was a deluxe version and the joke went over his head. In the movie, Standard talks about how she said that to him, and he thought it was hilarious.
Movie Going on a job with Standard
In the movie, he finds Standard in the parking garage all beat up with Benicio right there. Standard tells him he owes this guy money but can’t pay. This guy, Cook, has a robbery he wants done and so Driver agrees to be the driver and to help Standard and a woman Cook knows-Blanche, do the job. It is agreed that when they get Cook the money, Standard will be clean.
On the job, another car shows up and Blanche comes out with the money, but when Standard is leaving, he is shot. After a car chase which leads to a motel, Blanche admits she knew they were going to screw over Standard but didn’t know he was going to be shot. While in the hotel, Blanche is shot, and they try to get Driver but he ends up killing the guys that were after them.
In the book, the first job with Standard goes fine and it isn’t until a later job that Standard is killed.
Movie Nino and Bernie
In the movie, Nino and Bernie had been the guys who Shannon knew, and we find out they were behind the robbery Cook was orchestrating. Driver calls Nino (he gets the number from Cook) and offers to give him the money and be out of it but Nino is being difficult. Around this time is also when Nino sends a guy to Drive and Irene’s apartment complex and this is when the three of them are in the elevator and Driver kisses Irene before killing the guy. This is the last time he sees Irene.
Anyway, Nino and Bernie know they need to cut any loose ends because the money that was stolen had belonged to an east coast mob. Bernie kills Shannon, because Shannon had reached out to Bernie asking if he knew about Cook. Driver then kills Nino. Oh, and Bernie kills Cook.
Bernie then reaches out to Driver as in the book and asks to meet. In the movie he is going to get the money from Driver, but in the book, I don’t know if he even had the money anymore. I think he had given a lot of it to the Smiths.
But again, as in the book Bernie tries to stab Driver, but here, he succeeds, while Driver kills Bernie. The movie ends with him in the car holding his bad stab wound and driving. We also see Irene knocking on his door but there is no answer.
Book vs Movie
I would definitely recommend this book, especially if you like noir. As said, I loved the writing style and getting to know Driver’s background. It’s also one that I loved even more after a second read. There are a lot of metaphors throughout and a lot of passages that leave you thinking.
But when it comes down to it, I am going to say the movie wins. They made the romance more of a thing, the acting is impeccable, the plot is easier to follow, and it is just so atmospheric and I love the ‘80’s vibe despite it being set in modern day. I also like the scorpion and the frog parallels since Driver is the frog that takes them from one destination to the next, but they are the scorpion that stings him. Yet, he is the one that has the scorpion jacket and, in the end, he does the “stinging”. I also read that Gosling considers this to be his “superhero” movie since Driver is selfless and is protecting those who can’t protect themselves. That hero theme is the in the book as well and there is an interaction Driver has with a writer friend named Manny where Driver basically says he is out to save the world but feels unable or inadequate.
The book has more characters and there is a bit more to the plot so if you like the movie, I still highly recommend the book! And there are sequels so that’s cool. No movie sequels though. The director said if they made a sequel, it would ruin the ending of this movie. Gosling also had a no sequels rule, but he is breaking that with The Gray Man which they will be making more movies of.