Ryan Gosling Takes the Wheel in Drive: Why Do Getaway Drivers Always Get the Short End of the Stick Shift?

The Getaway Driver: The Spinal Tap Drummer of Heist Flicks

The Getaway Driver: The Spinal Tap Drummer of Heist Flicks

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Slate's Culture Blog
Sept. 16 2011 4:00 PM

The Getaway Driver: The Spinal Tap Drummer of Heist Flicks

Publicity still of Ryan Gosling in Drive © FilmDistrict

When Ryan Gosling buckles up in Drive this weekend, the ghosts of dozens of Hollywood’s getaway drivers will be riding shotgun. Gosling plays a Hollywood stunt driver who does some getaway driving on the side, and he should thank St. Christopher that for once it’s the driver, not the stick-up artist, who’s the protagonist. As the film’s poster boy, the Gos can expect that his screen time might actually extend beyond the usual getaway driver job description: A few minutes behind the wheel followed by an often grisly death.

Getaway drivers have a long history of short appearances in Hollywood heist movies, and they always seem to get the short end of the stick shift. Parked out front while the rest of the team cracks the vault, they’re rarely the focus of the action, and this secondariness makes them expendable.  Driving getaway in a heist movie is sort of like drumming in Spinal Tap: You’re not likely to share the stage too long before you fly through a windshield, take a shotgun spray to the face, or explode in a flash of green light on the car seat.

Of course Drive isn’t the first film where the getaway driver is the star—1974’s Gone In 60 Seconds and 1978’s The Driver also centered around getaway drivers—but the more peripheral, disposable motorist is the standard model. These single-use chauffeurs may not be the faces you remember after the lights come up, but they bear the brunt of the bullets and the oncoming big rigs. And that makes them stars in our book.

In honor of Drive, we’d like to pour out some petrol for a few of the fallen:

[Caution: Spoiler zone ahead]

Forrest Wickman Forrest Wickman

Forrest Wickman is Slate’s culture editor.

The movie: Heat (1995)
The driver: Donald Breedan (Dennis Haysbert)
His fate:
Gunned down at the wheel by a shotgun and two assault rifles.


The movie: Reservoir Dogs (1992)
The driver:
Mr. Brown (Quentin Tarantino)
His fate: After smashing his face against the steering wheel in a car crash (suffering at least a broken nose and possibly loss of vision), Mr. Brown is found dead following a shootout with police.

The movie: Ronin (1998)
The driver: Deirdre (Natascha McElhone)
Her fate: Left abandoned and bleeding in an overturned car, Deirdre can only look on as her partner, Gregor (Stellan Skarsgard), runs away with the mysterious and much-coveted suitcase.

The movie:
Point Break (1991)
The driver: Roach (James LeGros)
His fate: Fatally wounded in a shootout, Roach is tossed out of a plane by his teammate Bodhi (Patrick Swayze) (his corpse shows up around 7:55 in this clip).

The movie: Bottle Rocket (1996)
The driver: Bob Mapplethorpe (Robert Musgrave)
His fate: Bob’s partners in crime are his two best friends, but as the driver in their very small-time operation, he’s forever getting the short end of the stick. The film’s final twist reveals that the big heist was only a diversion so that gang leader Mr. Henry (James Caan) could rob Bob’s house.