(director/writer: Derek Cianfrance; screenwriters: Ben Coccio/Darius Marder/based on a story by Mr. Cianfrance and Mr. Coccio; cinematographer: Sean Bobbitt; editors: Jim Helton/Ron Patane; music: Mike Patton; cast: Ryan Gosling (Luke), Bradley Cooper (Avery), Eva Mendes (Romina), Ray Liotta (Deluca), Rose Byrne (Jennifer), Mahershala Ali (Kofi), Dane DeHaan (Jason), Emory Cohen (A J), Harris Yulin (Al Cross), Ben Mendelsohn (Robin), Craig Van Hook (Jack); Runtime: 140; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Jamie Patricof/Lynette Howell/Alex Orlovsky/Sidney Kimmel; Focus Features; 2012)
“Dove into deep psychological turf but without coming up with significant insights.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A modern-day generational crime drama moralist tale that spans fifteen years and is told in three segments, as it explores the troublesome relationships between fathers and sons. The ambitious visually beautiful indie film by writer-director Derek Cianfrance (“Blue Valentine”/”Brother Tied”) is wonderfully acted and seamlessly moves through the three separate connecting stories, but is overlong, somewhat stilted in its delivery and has an agenda that relies too much on the aud to believe wholeheartedly in its too many implausible coincidences. It thereby results in an unsatisfying pat ending that says too little by saying too much. That the film’s most innocent and most sympathetic character, played, by Dane DeHaan, is seemingly on his way to recover from being estranged all his life from his secretive dead criminal father by buying a motorcycle and learning to love it like dad, seemed like just so much claptrap. Nevertheless I was impressed by how the film dove into deep psychological turf, even if without coming up with significant insights; how it tackled real-life police corruption problems with a realistic sense of urgency; and how it scored atmospheric effect with its haunting noirish moody tone. Despite its unevenness and too many overwrought contrivances this is the film of a talented filmmaker unafraid of taking risks, who is trying to get the most traction out of a story he wrote with Ben Coccio and co-wrote with Mr. Coccio and Darius Marder.

Bad dude Luke (Ryan Gosling) is a heavily tattooed motorcycle stunt rider for a travelling carnival, who isfinishing his gig in Schenectady, N.Y. and at the last minute hooks up again with his old flame from a year ago, the Hispanic diner waitress Romina (Eva Mendes), and learns she has his infant son to support but doesn’t want him around since he never wrote when gone and she lives with a more stable man (Mahershala Ali) who is willing to raise the kid as his own. Impulsively Luke decides to remain in town and quits the carnival. He’s seduced to work for an impoverished crooked roadside auto mechanic, Robin (Ben Mendelsohn), a scruffy motorcycle enthusiastwho easily lures Luke to become a bank robber after learning he wants to be near his kid and needs money to offer Romina unwanted support. After one bank heist too many Luke is killed by a rookie Schenectady cop, Avery Cross (Bradley Cooper), as he holds a family hostage in their house. Avery is wounded and hailed as a hero cop, but then gets guilt-pangs realizing he didn’t completely follow proper police procedures during the shoot-out and that like the outlaw he also has a one-year-old son. Pressures to do the right thing mount for the edgy and ambitious cop, eager to please his hard-to-please judge father (Harris Yulin). The ambitious rookie must deal with a corrupt police force, led by the sleazy menacing detective Deluca (Ray Liotta), and he makes bad decisions and needs daddy’s help to bail him out of a jam. By the time we reach the third leg of the film, it’s fifteen years later and it becomes a meditation on the sins of fathers. The spoiled druggie hedonist son of the divorced cop, A.J. (Emory Cohen), whose dad is running for attorney-general and for loner stoner Jason (Dane DeHaan), AJ’s classmate at Schenectady High School, both have in common selfish fathers who are one of the main reasons the kids are so fucked-up. By the time the final segment gets going, the story grows more improbable and less convincing, and takes too many wrong turns as things fall apart. But even though the pic crashes into a rote exercise in filmmaking, I still found it a compelling watch for what it did right–exhibiting a mesmerizing power in depicting how debased authority figures can so easily make life miserable for those under their rule.

The title is derived from the Iroquois meaning of Schenectady, N.Y., the location where the film was shot.

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