Few actors today go as deep as old-school De Niro in embodying their characters as Ryan Gosling (who just happens to be CityBeat's cover boy this week!). The Canadian-born actor's latest method-informed performance, as Dean in Derek Cianfrance's Blue Valentine, employs both an impressive physical transformation (check his hairline as he ages in the film) and a total emotional immersion to the point where we, as viewers, are concerned not only for his character's well being but also for the actor's. His Dean is a soulful, untamed romantic who aches for the love of Cindy (Michelle Williams), a young woman equally smitten with a certain kind of love, and that ache is palpable throughout Blue Valentine's heart-wrenching narrative. (Read tt stern-enzi's review of the film here.)
Williams matches Gosling's intensity without ever letting us see the choices she's making as an actress. In contrast to Gosling's more overt, workmanlike approach (at least in this film), she seems effortlessly natural, an actress who does more with less. (Another example of her gift is on display in Kelly Reichart's Wendy and Lucy and the same director's upcoming Meek's Cutoff.) Much of the credit for the duo's affecting, go-for-broke performances rests with Cianfrance, a director who clearly created a safe and nurturing working environment for his actors. (Word is Gosling and Williams were apparently involved off camera, too — a dynamic Cianfrance probably didn't mind mining.) Williams was rewarded for her efforts with an Oscar nomination. Surprisingly, Gosling was not.
If only contemporary actors had more American artists like Reichart and Cianfrance in their corner — personal filmmakers keenly interested in exploring real human emotions.
In addition to Blue Valentine, we have a interesting batch of new releases this week, including a trio of films that opened in larger markets several weeks ago in order to qualify for Oscar consideration: Mike Leigh's Another Year (Leigh grabbed a nod for Best Original Screenplay), George Hickenlooper's Casino Jack and Sofia Coppola's Somewhere, which unfortunately arrives here without an advanced screening. Then there are a pair of genre films, one (The Mechanic) of which Cole Smithey is pimping as “one badass movie.”
ANOTHER YEAR — Another Year is often as depressing as its title. Of course, this being a Mike Leigh production, that's the point. The veteran British filmmaker behind such fare as Naked, Secrets & Lies and Happy-Go-Lucky again immerses his working-class characters in the messiness of everyday life, this time focusing his neorealist gaze on Gerri (Ruth Sheen) and Tom (Jim Broadbent), happily married sixtysomethings who revel in their long, still-evolving relationship and in simple pleasures like tending their garden. (Read full review here.) (Opens today at Mariemont Theatre.) — Jason Gargano (Rated PG-13.) Grade: B-
BLUE VALENTINE — Writer/director Derek Cianfrance's Blue Valentine alerts us early on that this is not a love story. The intoxication of young love quickly shifts into an obvious addictive downward spiral. Rather than tease us with the possibility of a happily ever after, Blue Valentine cuts back and forth from those initial highs to the couple (Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams) and their young child as the bottom nears. (Read full review here.) (Opens today at AMC, Esquire Theatre and multiple Showcase Cinemas.) — tt stern-enzi (Rated R.) Grade: B
CASINO JACK — Released just a few months after Alex Gibney's Jack Abramoff documentary, director George Hickenlooper's feature version of the same tale of corruption shellacs rather than shackles its GOP super-lobbyist anti-hero. Kevin Spacey's portrayal of Abramoff fails not due to any lack of solid choices on the actor's part; he is the victim of improper casting. Like its subject, Casino Jack is too slick for its own good. (Read full review here.) (Opens today at Kenwood Theatre.) — Cole Smithey (Rated R.) Grade: C
THE MECHANIC — Simon West, director of Con Air and The General's Daughter, has been off the big-screen radar long enough to properly contemplate the slick little cinematic take-over that is The Mechanic. The film's generic poster of a handgun made up of roughly sketched weapons cleverly conceals an ingenious update on the time honored assassin-with-a-heart genre. (Read full review here.) (Opens wide Friday.) — CS (Rated R.) Grade: B
THE RITE — Anthony Hopkins headlines Swedish director Mikael Hafstrm's thriller about an American priest who travels to Italy to study at an exorcism school. The cast also includes Alice Braga, Ciarán Hands, Toby Jones and Rutger Hauer. (Read full review here.) (Opens wide today.) — tts (Rated PG-13.) Grade: D-plus
SOMEWHERE — Sofia Coppola’s first film since the underrated Marie Antoinette (2006) was the surprise Golden Lion winner at the 2010 Venice Film Festival and has since drawn polarizing reviews. Somewhere’s simple setup centers on a drug-ingesting, self-involved movie star (Stephen Dorff, ironically) whose 11-year-old daughter (Elle Fanning) is unexpectedly left in his care. (Opens today at Kenwood Theatre.) — JG (Rated R.) Review coming soon.