Drive | 2011
With clear echoes of Walter Hill’s 1978 The Driver (also filmed around downtown LA), it’s ultimately let down by the ending. Maybe there’ll be a Special Edition someday, minus the last two minutes. And the opening credits almost – almost – make shocking pink Mistral cool.
The coldly professional driver gives his clients exactly five minutes of his time and not a second more. He waits in an anonymous Chevy Impala in the scruffy industrial area south of downtown LA, on East 18th Street just east of the junction with Naomi Avenue as his clients rob the Maestro DJ and Electronics Warehouse at 1710 South Naomi Avenue, alongside the Santa Monica Freeway.
Just like The Driver, the geography of Los Angeles takes second place to visual effect, and the driver is soon crossing the Sixth Street Bridge, west towards the area he’s just left. The famed bridge, demolished in 2016 after being found structurally unsound, was not only featured in The Driver, it became a landing strip for a Lear jet in the 2003 film of S.W.A.T.
The driver’s timing is calculated to the second, dumping the car in the garage at L.A. Live, 800 West Olympic Boulevard, the new entertainment complex on the west side of downtown, adjacent to the Staples Center. Just as a Clippers basketball game ends, he slips away anonymously into the crowd.
His day job involves disguising himself with a rubber mask and flipping over a car for a Hollywood studio production, on South Boylston Street, now inaccessible as part of the LA Center Studio lot, which occupies the old Unocal Building at 1202 West 5th Street, downtown. The studio has been featured in The X-Files, Doug Liman’s Mr & Mrs Smith, with Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, Constantine and 2020's Birds Of Prey.
Although he supposedly lives in Echo Park, immediately north of downtown, the drive home somehow manages to take him past the art deco entrance to the Hollywood Bowl on North Highland Avenue way to the west in Hollywood (he’s obviously taking the pretty route).
The driver’s apartment is actually an old friend in a new guise. It’s the venerable Park Plaza Hotel, 607 South Park View Street, overlooking MacArthur Park, northwest of downtown. We’re more used to seeing its wood-panelled ballroom (Chaplin, Barton Fink), its cavernous lobby (Wild At Heart) or monumental exterior (The Bodyguard).
The Park Plaza closed as a hotel in 1998, but the grand old Elks Building has lived on as a well-used film location. While it was being divided up into condos, the film used its rooms and corridors, taking advantage of the unmistakable view of the downtown highrises on the skyline and leafy MacArthur Park below.
A couple of blocks further west, the driver bumps into his neighbour Irene (Carey Mulligan) and her son at the Big 6 Market, 550 South Rampart Boulevard, just off West 6th Street.
It’s by the lake in MacArthur Park itself that the driver meets up with the nasty piece of work who’s pressuring Irene’s husband, Standard (Oscar Isaac), into robbing a pawn shop in the Valley. The park has gained notoriety as a fearsomely druggy gang hangout, but over the last few years, there’s been an initiative to clean the place up.
Tucked away behind Union Station, still downtown, the restaurant where Irene waits tables is Denny’s, 530 Ramirez Street.
Leaving the core of the city, it’s off to the northern suburbs of the San Fernando Valley to find the garage of the driver’s boss, Shannon (Bryan Cranston), which is the Picture Car Warehouse, 8400 Reseda Boulevard, north of Roscoe Boulevard in Northridge.
The facility rents out its vast fleet of cars for movie productions – supplying no fewer than188 vehicles for 2 Fast 2 Furious, and for productions including Rush Hour 3, Bucket List and Grindhouse, as well as plenty of TV productions.
Also in the Valley is ‘Nino’s Pizzeria’, where Bernie Rose (Albert Brooks) conducts his shady business meetings. It’s Vincenzo’s Pizza, 11045 Balboa Boulevard, in a tiny strip mall south of San Fernando Mission Boulevard, up toward Granada Hills (not far from the garage where the T Rex went on the rampage in The Lost World: Jurassic Park).
The driver takes Irene and her young son for a drive along the concrete bed of the LA River alongside Victory Boulevard in Reseda. The idyllic green spot he knows about is under the Orange Line Busway Bridge, just east of White Oak Avenue, south of Victory Boulevard.
Even further north is Santa Clarita, a popular filming spot since the 1920s, about 35 miles northwest of downtown LA.
Saugus, a northern suburb of Santa Clarita, is home to Saugus Speedway, 22500 Soledad Canyon Road, the racetrack where Bernie Rose checks out the driver’s skills before doing a deal with Shannon. Saugus, by the way, is the location for 1990 Christian Slater high school movie Pump Up The Volume.
A few miles to the east, the ‘pawn shop’ robbery that goes horribly wrong for Standard is the Santa Clarita Elks Lodge, 17766 Sierra Highway at Mint Canyon in Canyon Country.
With Blanche (Christina Hendricks) on board, the driver gets chased along Ridge Route Road, the Old Ridge Route, off I-5 north of Castaic, itself north of Santa Clarita. If you’re in Castaic, look out for the ‘Rabbit In Red Lounge’ and the truck wash from Rob Zombie’s 2007 update of Halloween.
Driver and Blanche hide out at the Pink Motel, 9457 San Fernando Road, Sun Valley, back in the San Fernando Valley. Dating from 1946, the motel is a favourite previously seen in House Of Sand And Fog, The House Bunny and Destiny Turns On The Radio, plus loads of TV shows (including The OC and Dexter).
The Pink Motel ceased operating exclusively as a motel, but its wacko fish-shaped swimming pool was drained and became a favoured venue for skateboarders – especially after appearing in 1987 film The Search For Animal Chin (directed by Stacy Peralta).
The driver catches up with pizzeria owner Nino (Ron Perlman), and exacts his revenge, on the beach about a mile south of the Point Mugu Rock on Pacific Coast Highway, north of Malibu. This is another frequently used location seen in movies such as Iron Man 2 and Knight and Day.
It’s finally back to the Valley once more, as the driver sets up a final confrontation with Bernie Rose in Chinese restaurant The Great Wall, 18331 Sherman Way, in Reseda, just east of the location that served as ‘Hot Traxx’ disco in Paul Thomas Anderson’s Boogie Nights.