Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Penny Thoughts ‘12—Drive (2011) ****

R, 100 min.
Director: Nicholas Winding Refn
Writers: Hossein Amini, James Sallis (book)
Starring: Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan, Bryan Cranston, Albert Brooks, Oscar Isaac, Christina Hendricks, Ron Perlman

My second viewing of the excellent film “Drive” seems a good place to discuss the star rating scale. For those of you who were paying attention, you may be slightly confused by the history of this film on A Penny in the Well. In my original review of the film, I awarded it a three and a half star rating. Then it ended up on my Top Eleven Movies of 2011 list, ahead of some other films that I had awarded four stars. (It wasn’t the only one, either.) Now, it shows up as a Penny Thought with an adjusted four stars for its rating. Just what the hell am I trying to pull?

Frankly, I changed my mind. I didn’t really change my mind on what I thought of the movie, just on the value I placed on that opinion. These star ratings are tricky things. It’s a lot easier not to beat your self up them, if you’re a critic. Many critics aren’t fans of this standard operating practice of awarding stars. Most are forced to do it, because it helps the readers navigate what they want to read about a little better. I have mostly been a fan of the stars all my life, which is why I use them being my own publisher. But, I do understand other critics’ frustration with them. Sometimes they just get in the way of the points we are trying to make.

Upon my initial screening of this crime thriller, I questioned how accessible it was in terms of a mainstream audience and tried to reflect that in my star rating. This was an inappropriate use of the star rating scale. The film’s general accessibility isn’t really a factor when considering its accomplishments within its genre. I thought the pace might be a little too slow and that it’s not so original story line played against its very original treatment of that material. The fact is, however, the pace was not too slow for me. The filmmakers couldn’t have achieved their very unique take on this genre with a quicker pace. More importantly, very few story lines are original. The ancient Greeks believed there was a very limited amount of original stories. What makes a movie great is not what it is about, but how it is about it.

“Drive” is an incredible meditation on the action genre. It’s about the people involved in these crimes, not the crimes themselves. Ryan Gosling’s nameless driver is one of the most original characters of the year, and of the action genre throughout its history. There is nothing that says this introverted stoic could possibly be a hero, but something touches him in the time he spends with Irene and her little boy. This gives him a reason that he never had before, as any action plot gives to its hero. The difference is that this guy isn’t inherently a hero. Similarly, Albert Brook’s gangster isn’t inherently evil; that’s just one of the drawbacks of his chosen profession.

Read my original review here.

Read the list of my favorite movies of 2011 here.

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