This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.
Tentin Quarantino ☭’s review published on Letterboxd:
This review may contain spoilers.
The trailer for this movie is perhaps the best I've ever seen, mostly because it only pulls from the first 25% of the movie, thus allowing you to experience the story without it being completely spoiled.
I was surprised by the structure and how it is basically three stories in one, all interconnected. It felt novelistic in its approach, as well as in the richness of its characters.
Derek Cianfrance's improv style is very real-world and believable. The characters are so fleshed out, they don't seem like characters in a story; they feel like people living their lives. Everything about the world of the story felt authentic at all times. This helped me get behind the characters and truly care about them. I wanted to see everything made right in the end. Much of the story's suspense is generated not from the situations themselves, but the anticipation of the characters making bad decisions.
I love the way the story unfolds, as I said earlier, in a very novelistic way. There's a great depth to this story, which is a hard thing to accomplish in the cinematic medium. I also appreciated how unpredictable it was. You may have an idea about something that might happen, but the path to get there is not always the way you'd think.
However, if there is one criticism I can level at this film, it's that some parts of the story don't feel as pertinent as the other parts. Mainly, Bradley Cooper's segment. There's a logical progress from Gosling to his kid, and from Cooper to his kid, but when you introduce both kids at once, one of those earlier stories isn't exactly necessary. Thinking back on the movie, there's a good amount of material in Cooper's segment that we really don't need. The whole part with Ray Liotta was dipping its toes in extraneous waters. I think the reason it felt that way to me is because it was dealing with Cooper's character and not his son. Gosling's role is all about him doing what needs to be done for his own son, but Cooper's felt more like self-gratification. There's a line about how he was doing it all for his kid when he's picked up for drug possession, but it rang false to me. The kid was well provided for. What he needed was guidance, for his father to be there to raise him and put him on the right path - one of the film's primary themes. Cutting to Cooper already on the campaign trail and skipping past the Ray Liotta stuff is a logical progression in terms of presenting that theme in the story, and losing 20 minutes in a movie that felt a little long doesn't seem like a bad idea. There's a scene where Cooper's wife sees him in the garage doing something (whether or not she found the money is unknown), and when we jump ahead in time, they are separated. If the audience can connect the dots here, I don't see the importance of keeping the promotion scenes in there. 2+2 is always better than 4.
That said, I did enjoy the stuff within that segment, in and of itself. There's some great material, but when writing a story and making a film, some darlings will have to be killed. The dinner scene, for example, when Cooper invites his cop buddies in for some food, really added nothing to the story. Even if you keep the Ray Liotta stuff in there, that scene could still be lost with minimal impact. I appreciated how the presentation of these characters living their lives helped keep that feeling of 'real people in the real world' alive, and I'm not sure if cutting a scene like that would in any way harm the feeling of authenticity, but in the end, I enjoyed the hell out of the movie, and that's what counts.
I have a feeling that this will certainly be on my Top 10 of 2013 list at the end of the year. Also, keep an eye out for Oscar nominations, particularly in the acting department. There are some amazing performances in here. I'll go on record right now saying that it will probably not see any love outside of the acting categories and perhaps writing. Hollywood can't benefit from promoting such a small independent film as a best picture nominee, no matter how good it is (Take Shelter, anyone?), so that won't happen. Its awards promotion will come by way of acting. That's the way the business works, sadly.
PS: There's a great little detail in this movie that very few people would have noticed. Gosling wears a shirt depicting Metallica's Ride the Lightning cover artwork (I have the same shirt). Later on, his son wears a Havok patch on his backpack. It's so inconspicuous that it almost slipped by me, but I found it very interesting how this hints at how the father passed on his taste in thrash metal to his son - the father being an important shaping influence on his son, as all fathers are, much in the same way that Havok was greatly influenced by Metallica, as all thrash bands are.
So, if you enjoy old Metallica, be sure to check out Havok.