Initially, there doesn’t seem to be much that has changed in the world of Derek Cianfrance. For his excellent debut film, Blue Valentine, he had Ryan Gosling playing a father failing despite all his best efforts to keep the mother of his child happy.
The difference here is that Gosling’s Luke has already lost Romina (Eva Mendes, who Gosling started dating while making this film) by the time we meet them in Schenectady, Upper State New York.
Luke is one of those mythical characters that seem to exist only in the movies. Insular, mean, and amazing at riding motorbikes, he’s an alphamale despite being socially inept. He can even get away with wearing T-shirts full of holes inside out. In an attempt to win Romina back, he turns to robbing banks with local mechanic Robin (Ben Mendelsohn).
Hold-up! This feels likes Gosling repeating his schtick from Drive and it’s already wearing thin. But before turning into a complete motorcycle crash the action interlocks with the tale of a young cop with political ambitions.
The excellent Bradley Cooper as Avery Cross becomes the focus of Cianfrance’s attentions. His job comes before everything, including his wife (Rose Byrne) and baby son. The young cop is willing to lie and cheat when it suits but also when necessary he is the first to declare himself holier than thou, perfect characteristics it seems to become a top politician.
Avery’s nemesis is an older corrupt cop Deluca, played by Ray Liotta. The actor is born to play the excessive violent villain, and after years of dud roles it’s a return to his Goodfellas and Something Wild form.
The corrupt practices and the need to turn a blind eye to police malpractice is worthy of The Wire as the action successfully morphs into a cop drama. Just as the story seems to be coming to the boil, there is a third unwieldy narrative jump that completes the link between Avery and Luke.
It’s an ambitious narrative structure that has hints of Psycho and The Godfather, but Cianfrance doesn’t manage to pull it off. The final act is too reliant on chance and while Cianfrance’s ambition is admirable, you don’t have to be able to see the wood from the trees to see where this story is heading.