Luke (played by Ryan Gosling) is a bit of a wanderer – his only real talent is riding his motorcycle and he works as a performance stunt rider in a travelling carnival. After a two year absence, his show returns to Schenectady, New York. After a show one evening, he catches up with an old flame, Romina (by Eva Mendes). She is as beautiful as ever and just as he is about to leave town with the show once again, he discovers that since his last visit she’s secretly given birth to his son, now about 2 years old. He quits the show and decides to stay around town to be near his son. Romina has moved on in her life and she and new partner Kofi (by Mahershala Ali) are raising the baby, so there is no place for Luke with her. He’s desperate to provide for his son so he gets a low paying job at a car workshop run by Robin (by Ben Mendelsohn). Soon he wants to earn more to support his son, so Luke turns to crime – he starts to rob banks, carefully at first but then he takes risks for higher returns … but he makes mistakes. A stand-off with an ambitious young police officer, Avery Cross, (by Bradley Cooper) has life-changing consequences for Luke and his baby son. After the incident with Luke, Officer Cross’s profile is raised within the police force and he wants capitalize on this to progress his career, so he makes another significant decision that means things for both Avery’s family and Luke’s will never be quite the same again. Several years later, the actions of Luke and Avery on the day of the stand-off and then the ensuing actions of these families connected by events in history have further serious consequences for everyone involved.
This movie is well made and the story is compelling. The performances of Ryan Gosling and Eva Mendes are strong – and Bradley Cooper does well here also. Also excellent is Ben Mendelson as Robin – a very realistic portrayal from him – well done. However, for me the drama loses much of its edge once the first part is over and the two characters of Luke and Avery are no longer the key protagonists in the drama. I don’t want to spoil the plot, but Ryan Gosling’s character primarily features in the first half of the movie – and here is where the strength really lies – Gosling’s fantastic screen presence is intense, his silence, facial expressions and movements are quite enough to display the emotions of his character through the drama. At a point, the story shifts towards Avery Cross (Bradley Cooper’s character) and where is where the drama loses its real edge. In some ways, this movie is trying to be too much – there are several features of the story that are only explored superficially – for example, Ray Liotta’s character is not used to its full potential, he could be a whole lot more than he is here. Also, Rose Byrne is a little redundant in her role as Avery Cross’s long-suffering wife. Because there is so much in this story, the movie is neither one thing nor the other – it fails in some ways as a movie because some dramatic options are not taken – it would perhaps have been better as a television mini-series, giving it the potential to draw more out of some characters and story lines. For me, the ending is a little weak. Overall though, it’s reasonably good.
Made in 2012. Directed by Derek Cianfrance