director: Scott Cooper
writers: Scott Cooper & Brad Ingelsby
starring: Christian Bale, Casey Affleck, Zoe Saldana and Willem Dafoe
genre: Crime | Drama
released: December 6, 2013 (U.S.), April 3, 2014 (Germany), June 5, 2014 (Greece)
When are we ever fully satisfied with a film? Worse, how is it a film can have almost no mistakes or discrepancies in its production. Have intense drama, compiled with great performances that are fine on their own. But never really take its subject matter to a more extreme, complex or deeper level? Did they think that not going further with any particular direction is intuitive or that ending a film with the feeling of "that was fine, but now what"? Is a more suitable narrative decision? Because it wasn't.
In urban and impoverished North Braddock, Pennsylvania. Russell (Christian Bale) is happy to live the life of a steel mill worker. His brother Rodney (Casey Affleck) though, can't help but try to live a more risque life filled with many vices. Even more unfortunate is that Russell's life will take a turn for the worse, after he is involved in a terrible event. A event that will lead to a radical change in his life and loss of precious time from his loving partner Lena (Zoe Saldana) and from his troubled brother Rodney.
Once done seeing this film you will have probably felt a feeling of pure mundaneness. Which at first might sound harsh. However it's for the reason that what we experienced a film that even though it has great and characteristic performances and a brotherly drama nobody wouldn't want to see. As well as villains that are staunchly cruel, diabolical and that never fall to the wayside of being cheesy and farcical. Fails to go anywhere in particular with its material except to the point of making sense in each little chapter it creates, without much depth or exploration to it.
Its a film similar in a way to "Joe", a film I recently reviewed. However more than that film. It had many more directions it could have taken its material. Though for one reason or another the film's writer-director felt merely content to take the easy way out by finishing the film before anything could have been properly said and done.
The film is by and large a revenge film and a story about brothers and the separate paths they take and how no matter their differences they still will be connected. How come though, the film chose to show these paths but never take them further is beyond me. From the prison angle that finishes rather quickly, to the soldier returning from Iraq angle that is mildly touched upon, to the return of a convict to his community, from a romance gone wrong and so on and so forth. These were paths shown in the film, but never were they fully explored. As a matter of fact, each path had like a little spinet shown of its exploration, but beyond that it never felt deep enough.
Perhaps the filmmaker wanted to show us how in life not everything can be explored and experienced. And that are lead characters couldn't stray away from the set paths of mistake and revenge. If that is correct, that still doesn't excuse him from the fact that the film feels significantly cliched in its conclusion.
There is no reason to hate this film or not to give it a chance. Bale, Affleck, Harrelson and even Dafoe give great and poignant performances. The director shows everything necessary to feel the pain and be in the mindset of the lead characters. As well as never having any of the story elements be confusing or misleading. Nevertheless each beat seems rushed once we get there and more moments of the main characters could have been shown. May that be through flashbacks to deepen their connections or the existence of a longer subplot where Bale has a final moment or two with his former love and her "new" man. Alas though, we get none of that.