The third dramatic feature from ‘Blue Valentine’ writer/director Derek Cianfrance, which again sees him reunite with Ryan Gosling, who is this time joined by another (to ape Will Ferrell’s Mugatu in ‘Zoolander’) ‘so hot right now’ Oscar nominee in the guise of Bradley Cooper, along with the combined talents of Eva Mendes, Ray Liotta, Ben Mendelsohn, Rose Byrne, Dane DeHaan, Bruce Greenwood, and Emory Cohen. The strong cast have been assembled by the success of ‘Blue Valentine’ and the involving script here, which spent several years gestating and who’s founding concept was a triptych exploring the notion of legacy, and the consequences of ones actions for years to come.
It opens with Gosling’s character Luke, a biker performing stunts in a travelling show, finding out he is actually the father of Mendez’ one year old child, leading him to quit in order to stay in town and try to provide for his new, unheralded son. The child turns out to be an unnatural devourer of enormous amounts of money, and so pretty soon he decides the only way he can possibly meet the demands of baby is to rob banks, several in fact, the money from which he finds he is just able to buy the would be new Citizen Kane of the world a cot with. This cot actually ends up as the centre of the entire universe of the film. Enter a spanner in the works, Cooper’s greenhorn cop, and the director’s intended consequences begin to be unveiled.
The film has been shot with a lot of fairly modern styles, close up camera work at times and shaky cam for example, but here they work pretty well for the most part, helping to give a feel for the adrenaline fuelled, hell for leather ride on a motorcycle after a bank robbery, and so forth, although the mix of these techniques and the fading in and out of music with diegetic sound, I think could have used a bit of tweaking. Slight plot issues aside, the story is good, but it’s really brought to life by the cast and crew – indeed I’d put this down as the first early awards contender of the year, although I wonder if it wouldn’t have been a little more effective with a truncation around twenty five minutes before the end, the completion of the third act feels a little too long and a little over the top.
Everyone is good in this, including newcomer Emory Cohen who comes across as a young Tom Hardy in many ways, there may even be a nod in that direction and Nolan’s Batman trilogy with Cohen saying ‘Why so serious?’ in a rather creepy way at one point, and the naming of Ben Mendelsohn’s character, who played Daggett in ‘The Dark Knight Rises’, as Robin. Dane DeHaan may have been miscast a little, as here his character is almost identical to the one he played in ‘Chronicle’, probably also why he was offered the role in the first place though, and the appearance of Ray Liotta onscreen is a bit of a giveaway that murkier territory is about to be entered …
Incidentally, the title of the film is a translation of the Mohawk name of the city that provides the setting – Schenectady in New York state, near the capital, Albany.