Director: Derek Cianfrance
Cast: Ryan Gosling, Bradley Cooper, Eva Mendes, Rose Byrne with Ben Mendelsohn and Ray Liotta
Plot: Handsome Luke (Gosling) discovers he is a father and begins robbing banks to raise money for his new son. When his life collides with patrolman, Avery Cross (Cooper), an unpredictable chain of events begins…
Anyone miss the great 70s movies? If so, this is the film for you. Every shot and angle just screams old seventies flick. Even when the film opens on the opening credits, you would be forgiven for thinking you jumped back in time. The story opens as a character piece for outlaw Handsome Luke, who discovers that a girl he hooked up with a year ago (Mendes) gave birth to a baby boy. Discovering that kid is his, Luke does whatever he can to become a decent father, even though his only skillset is riding a motorcycle really fast. At the same time, Bradley Cooper plays a cop, who has a hero status unwillingly stowed upon him that he doesn’t really want. However, he tries to use it to take down a corrupt police force. Those two stories play out in the same movie, almost like two different movies that interconnect at various points.
The reason I say I am reminded of a 70s flick is the direction from Cianfrance. From interviews, I know he likes to shoot scenes in one take, which is evident from the simplistic camera angles. But I do not mean offence by this. The camera angles may be simple, but they get the most out of the actors. There are no clever camera tricks here, cutting away from a scene. Entire bank robberies are done with one camera shot. Gosling and Cooper are left to hold a scene themselves and it gives the movie a raw, emotional feel. Cianfrance understands the importance of character in a film and that becomes his main focus here.
Ryan Gosling once again proves that he is not just a pretty face by stealing the show in this movie. He has a tough character to play with. Handsome Luke is the kid that never stopped being the rebellious teen and is suddenly thrown into an adult world. He constantly takes the easy way out (even his job as a mechanic pretty much falls into his lap), and could have very easily turned into a monstrous character we just wanted to see get killed gruesomely. However, Gosling really takes this sense that he is trying to do right by his son and even when Luke begins turning nasty, we see that struggle to do good hidden deep in the character and we end up rooting for him when the robberies begin. Also, I love how his voice cracks every time he screams at a hostage. It makes for funny viewing.
Cooper plays the other lead of the film and although Gosling steals the show from him, he does a good job. His character is a young cop, just trying to do right, but early on in the film, he becomes a hero, saving two hostages from a criminal. It is interesting how Cianfrance and Cooper portray the character. We feel like he is haunted by his past, but the thing he is haunted by is saving two hostages. It is a chilling way to tell the audience that doing the right thing can just open up a world of trouble. Cooper’s character is constantly getting his words twisted and sentences put in his mouth. We always feel pity for the character, even by the end of the film, when he turns a bit nastier in his old age.
Most of the other actors are pretty much standard. It is always good to see Rose Byrne in a film, even if she is given little to do. Ray Liotta plays the same character we have seen him play so many times before, although Cianfrance brings a little spark to a clichéd Liotta character. The only two other actors worth mentioning are Ben Mendelsohn and Eva Mendes. Both are brilliant here. Mendelsohn, like Gosling, plays a creep, but manages to keep the audience invested in the character. Mendes is better than she has ever seen before, finally given a script that asks her to do more than just look pretty. She plays the struggling mother of Gosling’s kid and the world is constantly getting one over on her, until we just want the script to cut her a break.
All in all, it is a great movie. Sadly like most 70s films, it has the same flaw: it is just too damn long. The film is two hours and a half. Sometimes this can work: with films like ‘Deerhunter’ we put up with the running time because we were interested in Robert De Niro’s character. Here, Cianfrance gives us too many characters to deal with. Not only are we following Gosling’s crime spree and Cooper’s slow-paced detective story, but the film jumps fifteen years into the future for the last half hour to the story of two teenagers. By this point, we no longer care about any new characters. Imagine Les Miserables without the catchy music to keep you grounded.
Maybe I would have put up with the two kids and their story a bit more, if they weren’t so douchey. The two characters are just so self-obsessed and miserable that you just want Gosling and Cooper to return to the screen. This additional story also hinges on a twist that everyone would have guessed ten minutes before it is actually revealed. However, saying that, it was a nice touch and ties the story together. I just wish Cianfrance would hurry up and tell the story, without putting so much effort into the glorious camera angles.
Final verdict: A great story, beautifully directed, with a little too much content to get through.