Russell and his younger brother Rodney live in the economically-depressed Rust Belt, and have always dreamed of escaping and finding better lives. But when a cruel twist of fate lands Russell in prison, his brother becomes involved with one of the most violent and ruthless crime rings in the Northeast - a mistake that will cost him everything. Once released, Russell must choose between his own freedom, or risk it all to seek justice for his brother. Written by
A powerful film with among the best screen performances I've seen
When I saw the cast list, I knew there would be some wonderful performances, but I was surprised at how they uniformly surpassed my expectations. I believe it's Bale's best work so far, and that's saying something. Likewise with Affleck, Harrelson and Saldana. The rest of the cast was wonderful as well.
There is one scene in particular (I won't spoil it here) where an actor lets loose in a way that careful directors and nervous producers would normally edit out. I applaud Scott Cooper for breaking the rule that films are meant to entertain (and earn millions), and raw emotion that feels too close to reality is to be avoided. It's inelegant, and not what we want to see from stars, especially attractive ones. Cooper lets people be people, and I find that incredibly refreshing.
I was immediately invested in the characters -- warts and all. As painful as many of their decisions were to watch, I went along for those very bumpy rides, because any other course taken would be untrue for these characters.
I recently saw "12 Years A Slave," and feel inclined to mention that I sense a new, somewhat subversive style of filmmaking emerge -- and maybe a wonderful new culture in Hollywood. (At least I hope so.) It's one where films about extraordinary hardship are treated a way that doesn't hold back, glamorize or otherwise mollify them.
In my opinion, when Hollywood slicks up violence (as it almost always does), it informs us that we shouldn't really be moved by its tragedy. We aren't shaken to the core and inspired to stop suffering wherever we can. That's shameful. So kudos to Cooper and to Steve McQueen for embracing a reality in their films that reconnects us with humanity instead of suggesting it's okay to blithely mock it.
If I have any criticism of this film, it's that two scenes where one plays out as a metaphor for the other may not have been necessary. Otherwise, I feel the writing is disciplined and at the same time very rich and rewarding.
The potential horrors of poverty and a lack of opportunity on display in this film are dealt with in a way that exempts political bias, and that in itself is a huge accomplishment.
A sense of hope exists amidst the heartache of this film. I will see it again.
161 of 219 people found this review helpful.
Was this review helpful to you?