An action thriller of alienation and broken dreams passed from generation to generation make this a thoroughly entertaining 140 minutes.
Derek Cianfrance’s new gothic potboiler starts with one of the most remarkable, mythical, sequences seen onscreen this year. Luke (Ryan Gosling) transforms from a normal human being against the backdrop of a garish and surreal carnival into a fully concealed gladiator entering the ring of lions.
The ring of lions is a steel mesh sphere suspended before the gawking audience in which Luke and two other faceless riders whirl inside at blinding speeds, defying fatal crashes every second as the mortals outside attempt in vain to enter. The riders inside the sphere are permanently separated from the world outside. They are doomed to repeat their circuitous bets with death, alone. Supermen in a narrow sense, but in the larger sense, simply alone.
Luke revisits his estranged lover Romina (Eva Mendes) and fails, once again, to make contact at a significant level. He has no more ability to grasp their relationship than would a Martian. His bond is with his motorcycle, the consistent reliability against which he measures himself.
Finding comfort in the precision of the steel and the power of the internal explosions Luke cannot fathom the dimensionless intimacy of love. As much as he tries, he seems locked into that steel sphere, forever whizzing about like an electron bound to a nucleus of unattainable dreams.
He runs into Robin (Ben Mendelsohn) while relaxing on his motorcycle, riding at freeway speeds through the forest, and Robin offers him a place in his shop. The employment interview consists of each person admitting they are hopelessly out of touch with what others tell them is the real world and working out a mutual support group based on crime.
Like all young lovers, they do not understand there are rules, even when one is breaking the rules. Icarus of the dirt bike, we know from the get go he will fly to close to the sun. trying to break free of his orbit, his spiritual steel sphere, he will break loose from his moorings and fly to his demise.
Detective Deluca (Ray Liotta) is assigned to break the crime spree. Of course, he is up to his ears in his own personal problems. Battling with his wife Jennifer (Rose Byrne), he is only marginally more in control of his life than are Luke and Robin. All three men, Luke, Robin and Deluca, are desperately fighting for meaning and connection and are losing the battle. Luke and Deluca both have sons who bear the scars of their parents’ dysfunction. Begin the epic.
At 140 minutes this film has plenty of time to further the interaction between the first generation, into the conflict and friendship enveloping the pair of sons, Jason (Dane Dehaan and AJ (Emory Cohen). It is hard to make any film last for 140 minutes, but this is one film that goes the distance. The directing, the screenwriting (congratulations to Ben Coccio and Darius Marder who teamed with director Cianfrance) and the performances are all pitch perfect.
This is a serious film, too serious for its own good. As serious as a heart attack. What stands between this film being very good, and being great, is an element of intimacy with the audience, a failure to completely admit the audience into the hearts of the cast and crew. The film’s message is powerful and compelling and the presentation of the movie is thoroughly entertaining, but it seems to keep the audience at arm’s length, providing a show rather than a commiseration.
As the film winds down, there is not the same exquisite tension as in the beginning. The director/writing team has superbly set the stage, but they are less able to execute the climax.
Given that (small) downside, this is a film to see. The cinematography is suitably dark and unsettling. The director manages to extract a wonderfully paced noir tension between man and machine. As the inroads made into human intimacy by modern technology are exposed they seem to be strengthened rather than breached.
There is a great undercurrent of mythological symbolism, reaching and failing, reaching again, succeeding only to a fraction of the goal. The characters are always fighting themselves as much as each other, fighting built in demons as much as fighting the world around them.
A great film and a must see for Ryan Gosling fans. Without question one of his best performances and a performance that is matched by the good work of the entire cast and crew.
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Directed by: Derek Cianfrance
Written by: Derek Cianfrance, Ben Coccio and Darius Marder
Starring: Ryan Gosling, Bradley Cooper, Eva Mendes
Release Date: March 29, 2013
MPAA: Rated R for language throughout, some violence, teen drug and alcohol use, and a sexual reference
Run Time: 140 Minutes