The cast is very exceptional all-round (Gosling has never been better) and Fleck captures some pretty powerful imagery (particularly with faces). Where it never comes together, however, is the story. It drops a lot subplots abruptly, and many of the "big" moments don't seem to impact the overall plot. It's also one of those films that tries so hard to be non-judgmental that it ends up being distant and un-insightful.
There is almost no plot here. And we almost don't know nothing about the main character. A drug addicted young teacher is preaching water while drinking wine. Unsympathic person; slow, very slow storytelling; boring. I had a hard time watching it to the end.
Admittedly I saw this a while ago, however nothing memorable springs to mind looking back. Ryan Gosling coasts off his cool persona as an excuse for a drab performance filled with vapid forlorn glances. Gosling doesn't captivate, but neither does Fleck's script and style - which lacks purpose and urgency. The premise is enticing and in a better hands it could be a remarkable tale.
Ryan Gosling = 5 stars, always, because I have a serious infatuation problem. But also because this film is so deft at dialectics, pitting forces against each other in endless rounds of insoluble conflict, within individuals, between individuals, between races, between classes, throughout society. What will 'win' - gang life, education, The Man, authenticity, crack, sobriety?