The director Godard famously wrote that “all you need for a movie is a gun and a girl”… as demonstrated in this brooding, robbery-gone-wrong L.A. noir, descended from BREATHLESS, but by way of the Coen brothers for its black (no, make that blood-red) humor. It’s a strange combo. On the one hand, we have Ryan Gosling, America’s Belmondo, powerfully laconic, as the perfect 2011 antihero. (Ryan does more not speaking than ten emoters) But it must be tough holding everything inside, because when he acts, people don’t just die, they are crushed, disfigured, and pulverized. Nor is Gosling the only one prone to outbursts of cartoonish (the audience was tittering) violence. A head exploded by a shotgun blast, a fork plunged into an eye, and more than one severed artery are like paint splatters thrown onto an otherwise cool canvas. It’s a tonal clash that must be deliberate, but to what end? The movie (whose plot relies on a difficult-to-accept coincidence) seems torn between existential dread and sacrifice, with a downbeat, not-so-ambiguous ending that splits the baby. At its best, it reminds us how exciting it was to go to movies in the 70’s when adults did adult things on screen, even if cars were being chased and shots being fired. Also: highest praise for both Albert Brooks and Bryan Cranston who disappear into their roles completely and are missed when not on screen. — Jeff Schultz

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