Derek Cianfrance(somebody please tell me how to pronounce that last name) has finally released his followup to Blue Valentine, and has crafted a unique opus about the mystical traits sons do or do not gain from their fathers, and the consequences that are predetermined for us by our fathers.
The plot kicks off when Luke Glanton, a traveling stunt-motorcyclist finds out he has a baby son from a past fling, and decides he wants to be there for him. He also desires to create a family with the mother Romina, despite her having found a good man, Kofi, to support her and little Jason. He gets a minimum wage job from a sleazy mechanic Robin, who eventually suggests to him that he could rob some banks to support his family. Luke decides he will do it, and he and Robin begin robbing nearby banks, which puts Luke on a collision course with a young justice-seeking rookie cop Avery Cross.
To say anymore about the plot would possibly divulge too much, as it does not unfold in the way the trailer would make you believe. Trust me, the less you know about the plot, the more it will have an impact on you.
Derek Cianfrance showed in Blue Valentine his uncanny ability to bring out raw, realistic performances in his actors, and he continues to do that here. Ryan Gosling and Bradley Cooper are two actors who are in their prime right now, and continue to prove themselves here in this film. Gosling is great at portraying the regret and weight of responsibility his character Luke Glanton carries with him. Had you told me 5 years ago Bradley Cooper would be as exciting an actor as he is right now, I probably would not have believed you. He gives one of his finest performances to date here as the cop turned politician Avery Cross who is constantly torn between his responsibilities at work and at home, and what is right. Eva Mendes gives possibly her best performance as Romina, and has fantastic chemistry with Gosling. Dane DeHaan appears in the last half of the film, and is wondrous. This is an actor you need to keep an eye out for, as he continues to amaze and further his potential. Ray Liotta has a wonderful supporting role as corrupt Detective DeLuca. A real standout here is in Ben Mendelsohn, who continues to showcase that he is one of the best character actors working right now. He seems to have become a sort of in-demand actor for playing scumbags, because he does it so well. In this film, Animal Kingdom, Killing Them Softly and The Dark Knight Rises he shows a wondrous range, bringing new dimension and character to each scumbag he inhabits.
The underlying theme of the film is the almost cosmic ways sons do and do not mirror their fathers, and if you pay attention, Cianfrance and Sean Bobbitt manage to portray that theme visually in a awe-inspiring fashion. Mike Patton, of Faith No More fame, contributes a stunning score for the film that you would not expect he had in him. Definitely one of the best scores so far this year.
The film does suffer some flaws though. The last half takes place 15 years after the first 2 acts, and unfortunately they do not convincingly age some of the characters. Eva Mendes and Rose Byrne look fairly convincing in their age makeup, but when it comes to the male characters, it’s like they didn’t even really try. I mean don’t get me wrong, Bradley Cooper will probably still look this good 15 years from now, but Mahershala Ali does not age, and Ben Mendelsohn’s Robin actually looks somewhat younger in the future.
The last act of the film unfortunately does not live up to the first 2 acts of the film either. It’s not that the last act is bad, it’s not really at all, it just does not reach the same point of intensity and thematic depth that the preceding acts do. It’s not as well thought out or put together. But regardless, Cianfrance has created an overall good film with terrific acting, and one that will hopefully be talked about years from now, as I believe there is still more to gleam from it.