Lone Wolves -- like the one played by Ryan Gosling in "Drive" -- have been a movie staple as long as films have existed. Mostly men, they have few if no attachments, tend to work alone and have an aura of mystery. They usually ride into town the same way they leave, by themselves, their stoicism intact. But while they are in town, changes are always afoot. Sometimes the lone wolf is out for retribution, returning to the scene of past wrongdoing. Sometimes he is retired, yet convinced to do "one last job." Most times he just wants to be left alone, yet gets pulled into other people's business. Whether or not the fight is of the lone wolf's own making, it is usually of his own finishing. With justice served, for better or worse, the lone wolf makes his exit, leaving no one who has borne witness unchanged.
This mythical character exists mostly in old westerns, hard-boiled detective stories, action flicks and science fiction. Every one of them has a code they adhere to, whether an ancient one like the Bushido or a user-defined code of conduct. In "Drive," directed by Nicholas Winding Refn, Gosling plays a stuntman who poses as a getaway driver for any thief who’ll hire him. He doesn’t carry a gun and minds his own business. But when he gets involved with the wife of a thief who needs to do that fabled "one last job," Gosling finds himself in the classic lone wolf’s predicament.
Refn beat out Terrence Malick for best director at Cannes, and has a reputation for splattery gore effects, so "Drive" seems certain to be a major conversation piece this weekend. Herewith, a list of the cinema’s finest lone wolves. Howl for your own in the letters section.