Sorry ladies. Although Derek Cianfrance’s (Blue Valentine) latest movie again features Ryan Gosling he spends the vast majority of it fully clothed – the vast majority that he features in, that is, because by the end of the first act we see the last of his presence as Bradley Cooper moves into centre stage for Act 2. He too largely disappears from the action for most of the third Act, to be replaced by his and Gosling’s onscreen sons.
This is nearly an excellent movie.
Although it’s long, the final third is spoiled by trying to cram too much action in and ends up becoming not just implausible but slightly confusing – not helped by the ludicrous “in the hood diction” of Emory Cohen who is decidedly outplayed by his nemesis Jason, played brilliantly by Dane DeHaan.
Gosling plays a wheel of death motorcyclist who, becoming disaffected with the touring life, stumbles upon an ex-conquest Romina, played by Eva Mendes (Gosling’s real life partner). In discovering that Mendes has borne Gosling’s son but is shacked up, alongside her mother, in the home of new fella Koli (Mahershala Ali – convincing and understated performance – one to look out for) Gosling first goes all doey eyed then sets out to stake his claim on his son Jason.
Being penniless (he’s jacked his job in remember) he has to earn some dough to impress Jason’s mom and so begins a short and haphazard spree of bank robbery alongside doped up partner Robin (a star of the show turn by Ben Mendelsohn).
This inevitably ends up going wrong and introduces us to a new main character, the copper with a conscience, Avery, played by Bradley Cooper. Cooper is gradually emerging as a Hollywood A lister after his Oscar nomination for Silver Linings Playbook and The Hangover. And in this he is excellent; studied and calm as the stool pigeon at the centre of a police corruption ring. Bent cops? Who should we cast? Ladies and Gentlemen let’s invite Ray Liotta, the face of supreme evil, in for a brilliant cameo.
So unfolds what is almost like a second movie. One in which codes of morality, trust and integrity cement the movie’s philosophy. He neatly challenges our ideas of who the good guys and the bad guys are and this is what propels us into Act 3.
As if these grand themes and this strong narrative drive is not enough Cianfrance is not over. In the third reel he moves the action forward 15 years to show that what goes around comes around and Cooper and Gosling’s sons run into one another in unlikely circumstances. Now we really do start to question who, if anyone, can claim moral superiority.
It’s an ambitious movie mostly well directed but without the taughtness of Blue Valentine. Gosling and Cooper appeal greatly and between them have a great deal of screen time. Mendes slips in and out quietly and unremarkably and Liotta and Mendelsohn do their best to upstage the stars. Ultimately though, my feeling is that Cianfrance has bitten off a little more than he can reasonably expect to chew, which is a shame because there is much to commend about this movie. It certainly represents value for money and is recommended despite its obvious flaws.