*SPOILERS ABOUND. I was going to try and keep this review spoiler-free, but it’s quite literally impossible to go in-depth on this film without spoiling some stuff. So, yeah, don’t read if you haven’t seen it, or don’t care about getting spoiled.*
The crux of what I, and I assume many others begins, with Ryan Gosling and his stuntman character. Newly finding out that his ex-girlfriend/person he slept with mothered a child from the both of them. Finding a new sense of worth, Luke (Gosling) turns to robbing banks to raise enough money so his child and Romania, his ex, can live happily. Things are all going well and good for him, getting better at robbing banks and eventually getting enough to start spoiling his son with toys. Of course, these things aren’t meant to last, Luke exits a bank a little too slowly only to see himself face-to-face with impending cops. He lures them on a chase throughout the city, eventually finding himself pinned down in a suburban house. Hiding out in an upstairs bedroom, he makes one last ditch phone-call to Ro, telling her never to speak of him to their child, the door opens, the cop is spooked and deposits a shot into Luke, propelling him out the window and to his death…
Yup, so after about a third of the film our protagonist dies. Bradley Cooper’s cop character, Avery, does the deed, and shifts us over to his part of the story. See, Gosling’s section is really just a set-up for the rest of the film, putting events into place that won’t pay off until fifteen years later, something the film eventually addresses. We see the Luke’s section, then we follow Avery as he deals with the fallout of being a hero cop, while he gets pressured to do some dirty activities, and eventually turns in his fellow cops. The last third of the film concerns both men’s sons, and their interactions with each other, and how they are and aren’t their father’s sons.
I can’t say I was entirely bowled over or wowed by the structure, granted it was very cool and something I don’t recall really seeing before, but it kind of reminded me of a novel in a certain way. The ability to tell a story over multiple decades and follow a generation of these people. Playing off this, each section didn’t feel alienated from the other, or feel like a completely different movie, as such with Gosling never showing up again, but rather felt of the same world, just in an expanding way. I can’t say the film is really saying all that much, but it is an entertaining ride for the two plus hours.
That’s really my chief complaint about the whole film, it’s all just so surface level. Everything is laid out so neatly and set in certain place to happen because it needs to, not because it feels organic to these characters. They feel more like characters than they do actual people, when this story so much demands realism rather than type characters. Because of this the film often feels over-long and boring in parts, guaranteed to ratchet it up eventually, but definitely suffers from spots of lull. The film suffers to make any lasting impact, robbing a uniquely laid plan of its intended goal.