Drive: A Comparison

Recently, I watched the film Drive. I’d heard a lot about it from people—pretty much universally good—so I figured it was time. And I enjoyed it. The story was entertaining, the performances were intense, and the visuals were great. What’s not to like about that? But that made me want to read the book it was based on: “Drive” by James Sallis. Once I did, and saw the similarities and differences between the two, I decided I wanted to write a little bit about them. That’s what this is.

Warning: the following post contains spoilers for both the movie and book version of Drive. So, if you don’t want to know what happens, probably best to move on now.

Right off the start, I want to say that overall, I preferred the movie to the book. That’s important because anybody who reads knows that the book is generally better than the movie. It’s not a rule, but it might as well be. Ask anybody about pretty much any book-turned-movie, and you’ll probably get the same answer: The book was better. But in this case, I give the edge to the movie. Don’t get me wrong; the book is very good as well, but in a different way than the movie. The combination of visuals, acting, and story in the movie make it stand out.

The first, and probably largest difference between the two is the storyline. The movie is simple; it has a beginning, a middle, and an end. They are all exactly where you expect (and maybe want) them to be. The book is a little different. The story style is non-linear. Things happen out of order. It starts with the Blanche scene, right after she gets her head taken off with a shotgun, and then weaves in and out of the past with no real order to it. It’s an interesting style, and one that doesn’t always work. The remarkably short chapters in “Drive” allow it to work well, but it would be a different story if it was the same in the movie. I’m not saying it would have been impossible, but it would have been difficult. There would have been a huge possibility of confusion amongst viewers.

Characters. Even though the majority of the characters are essentially the same, there are some notable differences. Foremost, in my mind, is Bernie Rose. In the movie, he’s played by Albert Brooks, and is the partner of Nino. While the basic foundation of the character remains the same in both versions, with the book, you get a much deeper look into his life. You see a little more of his personality, a little more of why he is how he is. He’s tired of his life, tired of getting fucked over by Nino, and tired of Los Angeles. He’s a much more interesting character in the book, layered and with some depth to him. I like Albert Brooks, and I thought he did a good job in the movie, but movie Bernie just doesn’t compare to book Bernie.

Other than that, the character differences are fairly minor. In the book, the character of “Irene”, played by Carey Mulligan, is “Irina”. She’s essentially the same character, except she’s Latina. Shannon is still Driver’s mentor, but his role is much smaller in the book; he took Driver in, helped get him into the business, but was killed in a stunt gone wrong long before the main plotline of the story takes place. Standard is the same character, though in the book, the robbery he gets killed in has nothing to do with prison debt; he just wanted money.

The other main character difference comes in the way of secondary characters from the book who didn’t make the movie. Two come immediately to mind: Doc and Manny. In the book, Doc is an old man who sews Driver up whenever he fucks up (after he slices his arm up in the hotel attack scene). Manny is a writer friend of Driver’s who he talks to several times, sort of like a wise friend who gives advice. Neither were particularly central to the plot, so I can see why they were left out.

Several details were changed as well. I mentioned Standard’s different motives for the robbery that gets him killed. That robbery and the one that gets Driver in all the trouble (the one with Blanche) are not the same robbery in the book. The amount of money they end up with is less in the book). In the book, Driver’s first real violent action (not counting the first chapter, which takes place directly after he kills the two men in the hotel room), is when he finds a couple thug kids around his car and punches one in the throat with his key before they can jump him. The whole racecar plot point is absent from the book. The relationship between Irina and Driver is pretty much the same, but it’s a lot less developed in the book. It’s more mentioned in passing than anything else; no grocery store scene, no broken down car and rides home. Irina is killed accidently, right in front of Driver, and Benicio is shipped off to his grandparents. Cook is a low-rent thug in the book, and Driver kills him, not Bernie. The assassin from the elevator is absent in the book; instead, we get a kid who Driver catches and forces to jump off a second-story balcony. Nino’s death is less dramatic in the book; Driver simply shoots him when he comes out to collect his newspaper from his driveway in the morning. In the final scene in the book, Driver still kills Bernie, but is not injured in the fight.

Despite the similarities between Driver in the book and Driver in the movie, there are some fairly important differences. He’s more talkative in the book, more willing to initiate conversation with pretty much anyone. He’s also more prone to initiating violence, rather than reacting to it. In the movie, almost all of his kills are in self-defense. The only person he actively pursues and kills is Nino. In the book, he attacks/kills the kid standing by his car, and Junior (Bernie’s partner). He also actively stalks Nino and Bernie, staking out Nino’s restaurant and Bernie’s apartment, and playing mind games with both. The book, of course, also gives backstory, about Driver’s family, childhood, how he grew up, and how he ended up in LA.

In the end, story-wise, I give the edge to the book. There’s just so much more detail, and a lot of interesting character information that was not given (or was much reduced) in the movie. But the movie still comes out ahead because of the visual appeal and the acting performances.

Nino is an asshole. Ron Perlman plays a convincing asshole. It was a match made in asshole heaven.

Even though I preferred the book versions of both Bernie and Shannon, Albert Brookes and Bryan Cranston are talented actors, and I liked both of their characters. They were both vastly different from the book versions, but what they were was well-played.

It’s hard to argue with Christina Hendricks as Blanche, mostly because she’s smoking hot.

With Irina/Irene, I’m not really sure why they didn’t go with a Latina actress, but in the end, I don’t think it matters. I believed Driver was close to Carey Mulligan. She did a good job.

And we can’t forget about Ryan Gosling. Dude’s a good actor, charismatic. I think he did an excellent job. He really pulled off the switch between quiet, unassuming guy to ultra-violent killer when he had to. Nailed it, as it were.

And that’s pretty much it. In the end, we’re left with two pretty drastically different stories that share many common elements. Both are awesome and entertaining, in their own ways. The movie, in my opinion, is better. Maybe you feel differently. I don’t know; I don’t read minds. Either way, I recommend watching the movie and reading the book, as soon as you get a chance.


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