Director Scott (Crazy Heart) Cooper proves with his theatrical release that he is one of very few up-and-coming directors worth watching. With an all-star cast featuring Christian (the Dark Knight trilogy, The Fighter) Bale, Woody (Rampart, Game Change) Harrelson, Casey (Gone Baby Gone, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford) Affleck, Zoe (The Words, the Star Trek series) Saldana, Sam (Swordfish, Black Hawk Down) Shepard, Willem (Shadow of the Vampire, the Spider-Man trilogy) Dafoe, and Forest (The Last King of Scotland, The Crying Game) Whitaker, Cooper's sophomore film shows the depth and understanding of a veteran director. The cinematography is not only the best so far this year, but quite possibly in decades. He truly captures the bleak world that the characters of this film inhabit. And he masterfully uses each and every one of his players to their full potential.
Commanding some of the finest dramatic performances in years, Cooper emphasizes subtlety and embraces cruelty in this complex tale of violence, redemption, and loss. Woody Harrelson demands immediate attention and respect within the first two minutes of the film, establishing himself as not only the film's primary antagonist, but quite possibly the living embodiment of evil. Christian Bale, Zoe Saldana, and Forest Whitaker create an unlikely but surprisingly believable love triangle. And supporting roles from the always-great Sam Shepard and never-forgettable Willem Dafoe offer up two vastly different father-figure roles for both Bale and actor Casey Affleck, who offers up several scene-stealing monologues throughout the film. The script is simple, yet the eccentricities of its characters and the time and effort put into the study of various regional dialects and mannerisms make the actors shine.
Though it is hard to pick one strength over a list of literally dozens as a "best part" of such a film, it can be most assuredly agreed-upon that Affleck's performance as the "lovable loser" kid brother with post-traumatic stress disorder and a propensity for violence as a solution to his seemingly limitless problems is not only the best of his career to date, but, in all honesty, the film's defining strength. This is not only the best drama of the year, but in all reality, the most important (not to mention relevant) one in most of these fine actors' constantly-growing and ever-impressive individual resumes. This is, by far, the best film of the year.