An unnamed Driver works as a mechanic, a stunt double, a stunt driver, and a criminal-for-hire getaway car driver in Los Angeles, California. His jobs are all managed by auto shop owner Shannon, who persuades Jewish mobsters Bernie Rose and Nino to purchase a car for the Driver to race. The Driver meets his new neighbor, Irene, and grows close to her and her young son, Benicio. Their budding relationship is interrupted when Irene’s husband, Standard Gabriel, is released from prison.
Standard owes protection money from his time in prison and is beaten up by Albanian gangster Cook, who demands that Standard rob a pawnshop for $40,000 to pay off the debt. Cook gives Benicio a bullet as a symbol that he and his mother are in danger. The Driver, concerned for the safety of Irene and Benicio, offers to act as the getaway driver for the pawnshop robbery.
The job goes awry when the pawnshop owner shoots and kills Standard while the Driver is waiting for him with Cook’s accomplice, Blanche. Pursued by a mysterious adversary, the Driver and Blanche escape after an intense car chase. The Driver hides with Blanche in a motel where he learns from a news report that the pawnshop owner claims Standard performed the robbery by himself and no money had been stolen. The Driver slaps and threatens to hurt Blanche when she lies about being oblivious to the second car. She admits that the bag contains a million dollars and that she and Cook planned to re-steal the money for themselves using the car that chased them. Two of Cook’s men ambush them in their room and kill Blanche before the Driver kills them.
At the auto shop, Shannon offers to hide the money, but the Driver refuses. He hunts down Cook in a strip club, smashes his fingers with a hammer, threatens to kill him, and force-feeds him the bullet that was given to Benicio. Cook reveals that Nino was behind the robbery. The Driver decides to return the money, but Nino dismisses the offer and instead sends a hitman to the Driver’s apartment building. The Driver invites Irene to run away with him and the money but she slaps him in anger over her husband’s death and the Driver’s involvement. Entering the elevator with her, the Driver encounters the hitman. He kisses Irene and brutally stomps the hitman to death, leaving her stunned and horrified. Surprised that Nino knows his address, the Driver confronts Shannon, who reveals that he also unwittingly mentioned Irene. The Driver advises Shannon to flee for his safety.
At his pizzeria, Nino reveals to Bernie that a low-level Philadelphia wise guy from the “East Coast mob” stashed the money at the pawnshop. Since anyone tied to the robbery could lead the East Coast Italian Mafia to them, they need to kill everyone involved. Bernie warns Nino that nobody steals from the Italian Mob. Nino is angry because the Italian Mob has marginalized and insulted him because of his Jewish heritage. He convinces Bernie to follow his plan. Bernie murders Cook, as he is the sole witness to their agreement. After Shannon refuses to divulge the whereabouts of the Driver, Bernie kills him at the auto shop with a straight razor.
The Driver, disguising himself with a rubber stuntman’s mask, follows Nino from the pizzeria to the Pacific Coast Highway and rams his car onto a beach; he chases Nino from the wreck to the ocean and drowns him. He makes a phone call to Irene to tell her he is leaving and that meeting her and Benicio was the best thing that ever happened to him. The Driver meets Bernie, who promises that Irene will be safe in exchange for the money. He gives Bernie the money, but Bernie stabs him in the stomach. The Driver pulls out his own knife and stabs Bernie in the throat, killing him. He abandons the money next to Bernie’s body and leaves. Irene knocks on the Driver’s apartment door to no avail. The wounded Driver drives off into the night.