Drive (2011) Ending Explained – Who is behind the heist gone wrong?

Drive Plot Summary

Drive is a neo-noir crime drama, but at its core, it’s a hard-edged, art house – European style film, very un-Hollywoodish in approach, and directed by Danish filmmaker, Nicolas Winding Refn, based on James Sallis’s 2005 novel of the same name and screenplay adaptation by Hossein Amini. It is a heist gone wrong, a revenge drama, and a story of unrequited love, giving us a multi-layered narrative.

Who is the Driver?

The film stars Ryan Gosling as an unnamed driver, who works as a mechanic and stunt double in films. But the Driver also exists on the fringes of the crime world in Los Angeles. He moonlights as a getaway driver in small-time heist operations. And he’s pretty good at getting away. He is a good-hearted soul, a loner, a man of few words. He keeps to himself. He’s not really interested in money but does his job for the sake of the job.


How does the Driver make a connection with the underworld?

The Driver’s employer and mentor, Shannon (Bryan Cranston) is a good-natured rogue, who has connections in the underworld as well as in the Hollywood movie industry. And apart from running a garage where the Driver works, Shannon also gets him various odd jobs from time to time, for a commission of course.

Shannon approaches an erstwhile client, Bernie Rose for a loan for getting onto the racing circuit. Bernie is an ex-film producer, who’s now partnered with a Pizzeria owner, Nino ‘Izzy’ Paolozzi (Ron Perlman).

Nino has his own backstory. An ageing mobster, who’s looked down on by the ‘Family’, he harbours ambitions of striking it big in the crime world. In fact, Shannon even has a history with Nino, who in the past gifted Shannon with a broken pelvis and a permanent limp. So, Shannon going back to Bernie and Nino speaks volumes of his confidence in his protégé, the Driver.

Who is Irene and how is she roped in the underworld?

The Driver frequently comes across his next-door neighbour, a pretty, shy, and similarly reserved Irene (Carey Mulligan) and her child, Benicio. He starts helping them out, running errands and soon strikes up a friendship. An unspoken romance also starts developing between him and Irene.

Having found some semblance of companionship and domesticity, bordering on love, the Driver finds a new version of himself that he was hitherto unfamiliar with. He wants to stay away from the crime world and rudely drives away a previous client who approaches him with a job.

But their so-far platonic relationship is interrupted when Irene’s husband, Gabriel (Oscar Isaac) is released from prison. But Gabriel is not a bad sort. He’s a kind husband and a loving father, who, unfortunately, keeps some very bad company.

Soon after he’s released from prison, Gabriel gets brutally thrashed by some thugs. The child is naturally traumatized and the Driver feels protective of Benicio. Gabriel reveals that he owes some gangsters protection money while he was in prison. And they’ve threatened to go after his wife and kid if he doesn’t do their bidding. The only way out is to do a job for them, which he’s reluctant to do.


How does the Driver get involved with the heist?

The Driver decides to help him out of this situation. He meets with Gabriel’s mob connection, Chris Cook who reveals it’s a simple heist. Gabriel and his partner-in-crime, Blanche (Christina Hendricks) are to rob a pawn shop, and the Driver will help them get away. Gabriel will be absolved of his liabilities, and everybody gets a cut from the job, except the Driver. For him it’s a selfless act, to protect Irene and her son.

However, things go south soon. As Gabriel and Blanche enter the pawn shop, the Driver waiting in the car notices that another car slowly coasts in and parks close by. A few minutes later, Blanche carries the loot into the car, but Gabriel is shot dead as he exits the shop. The Driver and Blanche (along with the loot), drive away, hotly pursued by the other car. He manages to incapacitate the pursuing car and get away.

What went wrong with the heist?

The Driver and Blanche hide out in a motel where he sees a TV interview, where according to the pawn shop owner, Gabriel was acting alone, and no money had been stolen. This sets off warning bells in his head. He realizes that they’ve been set up and Blanche is in on it. He assaults her and gets the truth out.

She admits that the bag contains one million dollars in cash. Cook’s plan was for them to loot the pawn shop, and the second ‘pursuing’ car was supposed to hold them up and steal the money from them. She had no clue about any killing.

Meanwhile, two of Cook’s gunmen reach the motel — they’d been surreptitiously informed by Blanche earlier. But one of them shoots her. The Driver manages to kill them both and escape with the money.


Who is behind the heist gone wrong?

Back at Shannon’s Garage, the Driver is pondering how to get out of this quagmire. He feels bad for Irene and wants to make it up to her.  Shannon however can’t stop thinking about all that money in his employee’s possession which is safely hidden.

The Driver tracks Cook to a nightclub and smashes his hand with a hammer. Cook finally reveals that it was Nino who was behind it all. The Driver realizes that the Mafia is involved. He doesn’t care for the money; he’d just done this for Irene. And he knows that the mobsters will eventually trace them. He calls up Nino and offers to return the entire money in exchange for ending this whole affair.

How does Nino react to the Driver’s offer?

Nino instead sends one of his thugs to eliminate the Driver… The Driver and Irene are going down the elevator when he realizes that the person standing next to him in the elevator is one of Nino’s thugs.

In the spur of the moment, he kisses Irene, a sort of goodbye kiss, his last normal moment with her. And then he transforms into a monster, battering the thug and stomping and crushing the man’s skull like a wild beast, with all the pent-up angst of knowing that he can never truly have a life with the only woman he cares for. Irene is terrified to see the monster in him.

The Driver rushes back to the garage, where he lashes out at Shannon for having unknowingly told Nino his address and his relationship with Irene. Shannon protests that he only spoke to Bernie and that too in good faith, in order to help the Driver. He didn’t know that Bernie would inform Nino. The Driver, livid, says that they all are in danger, even Shannon and advises the older man to flee.


What was the real story behind the heist?

The truth is far more complex. Nino the ageing, frustrated mobster hoping to make it big, gets a tip-off that some East Coast Mafiosi from Philadelphia had stashed money in a pawn shop with the intention to expand their influence in Nino’s turf. So, he hatched a plan to get hold of that money through Gabriel, without it leading to him.

But if the ‘Family’ learns that Nino is behind this robbery, then he is dead. And the only people who can tie him to this are the Driver, Shannon, and his minion, Chris Cook, who’s responsible for this fiasco in the first place. So, the first person to go is Chris Cook, who Bernie kills in cold blood. He then finds Shannon all packed and ready to leave. And he dispatches Shannon by slashing his veins.

How does the war end?

The Driver discovers Shannon’s body in a pool of blood and realizes that it’s war. He grabs a face mask from one of his movie sets and drives to Nino’s Pizzeria. When Nino leaves, the Driver follows his car and rams it, toppling it off the road onto the beach. A shaken and bruised Nino extricates himself from the wreckage, but seeing a masked figure, stumbles into the waters. The masked figure coolly follows into the sea and drowns him.

Next, the Driver calls Bernie and they fix to meet in a Chinese Restaurant. Bernie declares that if he gives him the money, Irene will be safe, forever. But the same cannot be said for the Driver. Since the Mob knows about him, he’ll have to lead the life of a fugitive, always on the run, always looking over his shoulders.

The Driver accepts the deal and takes Bernie to the parking spot. However, as soon as the money changes hands, Bernie stabs him with a knife. But the Driver is prepared for it. He counters by slashing at Bernie’s neck with a knife, killing him. The Driver survives the stabbing, manages to get in his car and drives off, leaving the cursed money behind.


Do Irene and the Driver get together in the end?

Before he meets with Bernie, the Driver calls Irene and confesses that the time spent with her and Benicio was the happiest moment of his life. Irene, totally unaware of the storm raging around her, realizes that she too cares for him. For the first time, she takes the initiative to go and knock on his door, but it’s too late. There’s no response. She sadly walks back into her bleak world, while the Driver drives into oblivion.

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