For the first three-quarters of this production’s generous runtime, the writing (story by Derek Cianfrance and Ben Coccio; joined by Darius Marder for the screenplay) is superb. Unfortunately that high level of compelling, suspenseful storytelling slips a notch (noticeably the escape from family life by rebel with a new cause, Jason—Dane DeHaan readily devours the part, doing all that he is asked and more), leaving viewers largely satisfied rather than unforgettably stunned by the excellence on all fronts for most of the film.
The remaining principals are all first rate. In the tradition of Mickey Rourke (The Wrestler, cross-reference below), Ryan Gosling digs deep into his inner beast playing the pivotal—if relatively brief—role of daredevil motorbike rider, smoking up a storm, drinking happily to excess and managing to become a father (Jason’s) but not realizing that happy event until his prodigy is already a year old. After girlfriend Romina (Eva Mendes does a masterful job pining for her anything-goes sometime lover while simultaneously being a dutiful mother and wife to a much duller, but stable spouse—Mahershala Ali mixes up just the right tone of outrage and silent suffering as Kofi) spills the news to the totally surprised dad, she is equally shocked when the carnie headliner abandons the roar of the crowd for the get-rich-quick vocation of bank robber. He’s so fast on two wheels, how could the cops ever catch him?
Of course they do and from that deadly moment (rookie Avery brings him down—a fine range of emotion from Bradley Cooper), the narrative starts to burn through all manner of false hero worship (who did shoot first?), police corruption (Ray Liotta being the ideal choice for hard-nosed slimmer) and a fast forward 15 years hence, where Jason makes a new friend (the essential bad boy part is executed nearly to perfection by Emory Cohen, whose future looks bright) that turns everyone’s world upside down forever.
By journey’s end, the strands are tied up a little too predictably and neatly (the sequel literally riding off screen into the next adventure), but the abuse of power and privilege, coupled with a family secret finally revealed, give an overall impression of verisimilitude that—yet again—should make those looking on pause when heroes are celebrated or politicians assure everyone they are telling the truth. JWR