2) A character study of people who are slow to speak, and not quick to smile,
even in greeting one another, are almost devoid of small talk, and are comfortable
with long silences. In this way, it’s almost like an old Western.
3) An examination of stunted emotional growth. All of the characters live
so much inside their own skin that they’re almost incapable of considering
the consequences for anyone else, which, of course, creates a lot of chaos and
4) An orgy of raw physical violence, almost akin to a slasher film, with spurts
of blood, face covered in blood, bleeding out on the floor, sudden stab wounds, a
sharp knife plunged into the eye, faces blown away at close range, even literally
kicking someone’s head in until it’s nothing but a bloody pulp.
5) A careless display of nudity among the extras, where dancers in a topless bar
dressing room just sit around with their shirts off staring at people who are arguing
in front of them, and we stare at them, as if their being unclothed meant no more
to them than……the fact that they spend their lives with everybody in the room
staring at them. Ah, but what if we didn’t?
6) A frustrating offering of completely unrequited love. The main character
claims, at the end, that the best time of his life was when he was with her. And yet
all they did was hold hands, once, at her instigation, and kiss, once, at his, which
was actually just a calculated distraction prior to yet another slaying. Where’s the
And yet, we cannot quit looking at Ryan Gosling, as the main character, even
if he is devoid of any emotion except anger. Nor can we stop looking at Carey
Mulligan, who somehow manages to convey emotional depth by her mere silence,
by an anguished glance, eyes suddenly brimming with tears, a tightening of the
jaw and the pursing of the lips. The adulation of this actress’ performance is well-
deserved. Throw in a smarmy Oscar Isaac, a mincing Bryan Cranston, a cheesy
Christina Hendricks, a grotesquely menacing Ron Perlman, and a calculatingly
cruel Albert Brooks and you have a secondary cast worthy of a film school project,
a greasy garage full of smelly caricatures.
The tempo and the lighting and the pacing are so carefully controlled that you’ll
feel manipulated, but, like the classic horrific car crash, you can’t take your eyes
It just won’t capture your heart.
Ronald P. Salfen is interim pastor of St. Stephens Presbyterian Church in Irving,