Derek Cianfrance's Oscar-nominated drama is an unapologetic downer with two outstanding performances from Michelle Williams and Ryan Gosling – US indie cinema royalty.
They star as Cindy and Dean, a couple whose relationship is disintegrating in rural Pennsylvania. Cindy hasn't locked the gate, allowing their three-year-old daughter's dog to get out. The mutt duly snuffs it, and their relationship looks similarly doomed. We're privy to the blossoming of their love, he's a romantic who believes in "love at first sight", she has just escaped an abusive relationship. No one is content here. Cindy's parents hate each other; her grandma confesses that her husband "didn't really have any regard for me as a person". There's no light, only toxicity. Dean, a part-time removal man, starts out with plenty of hair, an endearing smile and a cocky swagger, three years later his hair has thinned, his back has drooped and he's sniping at everything. He tries to re-ignite their love with a night in "The Future Room" of a seedy hotel, but only succeeds in humiliating himself in one of the most excruciating sex scenes in American cinema's history.
For the first 30 minutes your sympathies fluctuate slightly between the pair, but in fairness it's pretty clear, after a particularly painful conversation about a former lover on a trip back from the shops, that you're going to side with Cindy, rather than the hard-drinking (he drinks before work), directionless Dean.
A defiantly anti-date movie and a staggeringly convincing performance from Williams.