Directed: Derek Cianfrance
Producer: Matt Berenson
Writer: Derek Cianfrance, Ben Coccio, Darius Marder
Starring: Ryan Gosling, Eva Mendes, Bradley Cooper, Ray Liota, Craig Van Hook,
Running Time: 2hrs 20mins
I’ve done it again. I’ve watched the trailers and listened to the hype, which started to produce sweaty palms, quickened heart rate and an air of anticipation that I thought wouldn’t be denied. After all it looked so deliciously dark, moody, atmospheric and at it’s heart was the life struggle of a relationship between fathers and sons (which I am a sucker for. I love you son).
General premise: Luke, a drifter and motorcycle stunt rider played by Ryan Gosling, turns to robbing banks as a way to provide for his son and mother of their one year old child, a decision that puts him on a collision course with an ambitious and corrupt rookie cop navigating a department that is itself corrupt.
In the opening shot and credit sequence we follow the back of Luke, our protagonist as he prepares for a stunt performance at a travelling fair. Brilliant. Love it. It’s the opening that felt perfect. It sets the emotional tempo for the film and I’m hooked. This theme continues throughout the first act and it is brilliant. The performance is first rate. The shot composition beautiful with its use of landscape as a way of emotional engagement. Everything believable and all is well with the world. Film anyway! However…(you knew a ‘but’ or ‘however’ was coming) when we are torn into the second act the film starts to lose energy, ambition and I can start to feel a status quo kind of ending on the horizon and what this film needed was completely the opposite.
As we follow the story and central characters from the start of the second act we’re not offered a hero. No one that I really wanted to connect with (not even with those smouldering eyes of Liota) and this continued throughout the entire second act of the movie. The pace, direction and emotion all out of kilter. It seemed this film offered a sense of modernity to the mainstream, unfortunately it became standardised and unvaried.
End of the second act, start of the third and we are once again sent on another tangent of this narrative. This starts well. I’m engaged again and the new, central characters have it going on. This is once again heading to a bloody and in a dysfunctional way logical conclusion. The teenagers performances are engaging and complex and once again the central theme, which had been lost, has returned. The standout performance has to go to Dane Dehaan. His performance blew me away. I felt his pain, anger, sorrow and sense of isolation. I have connection to the film again, but this feeling in my gut just doesn’t go away. It’s a knot of sensing that I’m going to be left dissatisfied with the conclusion. All families are relatively dysfunctional in this world but we’re offered the perceived ‘norm’ within Western, white culture. Whites in the position of authority and the Hispanic, black and mixed race families taking a lower run on the ladder of achievement, hope, success and reward. The spiral of following in the pattern within family dysfunction is a well worn story and this central theme has a warning for us; we’re destined to repeat the things we deny/refuse/accept that we need to change.
I absolutely hated the ending. Yes it has a relative successful ending for all, but the openness of its racial lines were a little too blatant. This could have been the perfect film to have subverted the status quo and to have challenged the political and social divide. Ok I might be a tad over sensitive towards such a reading, but we could then go from the class divide. Its conclusion is still the same. I’m not against a happy ending. I loved ‘When Harry Met Sally‘, but even with this twee ending for all, some get it better than others and not necassarily the most justified characters. It’s an injustice I tell ya!
There’s a great many positives to take out of this film like the use of landscape as character and Dane Dehaan’s performance. I have to big Eva up as well. She was very good. Also colour palet, editing and score. If you want a good story then this is a good cinema film but if you’re looking for something more challenging and subversive from the mainstream then this isn’t for you. This is undoubtedly an ambitious movie and its central performances (except for Bradley Cooper) were well crafted. However, ambition doesn’t equal success.