At The Wheel - TopTenMM Opening Sequences

Updated: Nov 12, 2019

Nominee #6 - Drive (2011)


A car mechanic and stuntman working as a getaway driver at night gets involved in a more serious problem after helping out his neighbour.

Director: Nicolas Winding Refn

Writers: Hossein Amini (screenplay), James Sallis (book)

Stars: Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan, Bryan Cranston

Blu Ray

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Drive’s opening sequence is subtle, intelligent and powerful. It not only sets the tone for the entire film but offers the first clues into the mysterious character the film follows, Ryan Gosling’s ‘The Driver’. The film opens with soft pulsing beats, the camera panning over a detailed map and the voice of the driver, “You give me a time and a place, I give you a five minute window. Anything happens in that five minutes and I'm yours. No matter what. Anything happens a minute either side of that and you're on your own. Do you understand?”

The next shot puts us inside the car, we see night through the driver’s eyes and the camera rarely leaves the interior of the car for the entire sequence. The driver waits as his two clients break into a building, he straps his watch to the steering wheel, meanwhile we cut to beautiful shots of the city of Los Angeles, the sound of sirens in the background.

The beauty of this opening sequence is its silent intensity.

We return to the car. The music pulses louder, the watch ticks the seconds away, one of the robbers return, the driver watches with intense eyes, his gloved hands gripping the steering wheel, the radio announces the score of a basketball game. The second robber returns, the sound of choppers fill the air, the sirens sound, the driver slowly begins his getaway.

What follows is a strategic chase, the classic ‘police chase getaway’ but with a twist, there are no screeching drifts or smoking tires, this driver has planned his escape. He watches everything, his movements are confident an almost direct contrast to his gasping clients in the rear seats. This may sound dull; it may seem bland but it’s really quite the opposite. The audience instantly knows this is a precise, silent professional. Expertly, he navigates through the escape route, police cars and choppers swarm the area, the music builds but the driver is calm.

The beauty of this opening sequence is its silent intensity. It steers away from the conventional action movie tropes and creates its own atmosphere. Drive is an action movie but it’s not about high speed chases and shoot outs, the director (Nicolas Winding Refn) chooses a different approach a more psychological, realistic approach and this opening sequence conveys that flawlessly. This opening chase reveals the mind and character behind the driver, in fact this sequence is more of an intellectual chase rather than an action sequence. It leads us through the perfect getaway through the mind of the driver. The camera work enforces this, we are always beside the driver, we are in the car, we experience the moment with our character.

Drive’s opening sequence is a claustrophobic and contained moment, it had every opportunity to repeat the formula and break into a high-speed car chase but Drive chose to be different, it chose to take us through a more silent, thoughtful experience that drips with tension. This sequence is about more than what you can see, it’s about what you feel. Subtle, silent but intense, this opening sequence has been crafted to perfection.

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