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The Place Beyond the Pines (A Movie Review)

Updated: Apr 22, 2023

The Place Beyond the Pines


Starring Ryan Gosling, Bradley Cooper, Eva Mendes, Rose Byrne, Dane DeHaan, Emory Cohen, Bruce Greenwood, Ray Liotta, Mahershala Ali, Olga Merediz, Ben Mendelsohn, Gabe Fazio, Harris Yulin and Michael Cullen.

Screenplay by Derek Cianfrance and Ben Coccio.

Directed by Derek Cianfrance.

Distributed by Focus Features. 140 minutes. Rated R.

The sins of the fathers visited upon the sons is a fairly common subject in Hollywood, but it is rare that it is done as thoughtfully as The Place Beyond the Pines.

Writer/director Derek Cianfrance's follow up to critic's fave Blue Valentine tells three complex, interwoven stories in it's over two-hour running time, focusing on two pairs of fathers and sons and how their completely random but devastating meeting affects the lives of their sons sixteen years later.

The movie is beautiful, squalid, tragic, complicated and almost completely without levity.

The first section follows Luke (Ryan Gosling, reuniting with Cianfrance after Blue Valentines), an aimless motorcycle stunt rider for a traveling carnival. While doing a stop in Schenectady, he runs into a gorgeous local waitress named Romina (Eva Mendes) with whom he'd had a fling the year before. When he learns that the affair led to a baby, Luke decides to give up the carny lifestyle and move to Schenectady to care for his son and try to win Romina from her new boyfriend. Unfortunately, he has no real skills other than riding and jobs are hard to come by, so he gets involved in a series of bank robberies. Things seem to be going well for him until he gets involved in one heist too many, at which point his trails cross with...

Avery (Bradley Cooper), a green rookie cop who is the first on the scene at the robbery and gets into a high-speed chase tracking down the criminal on a motorcycle. Avery's connection with the case makes him a local hero, however Avery made one huge mistake and realizes that he is not as heroic as the rest of the world thinks. He also feels guilty when he finds out Luke had a one-year-old son, because Avery had a son the same age. Then as he gets increasingly accepted into the department, he suddenly realizes that many of his fellow cops are corrupt, leading him to maneuver his way into a political position trying to clean up the local police.

Flash forward 16 years, when Avery is an established politician running for even higher office. He is estranged from his wife (Rose McGowan) and son AJ (Emory Cohen). Things are particularly contentious with AJ, who has become an angry, pampered kid who doesn't even attempt to hide his disdain for his dad. One day at high school he meets Jason (Dane DeHaan), Luke's son, neither even realizing nor knowing about their dad's history together. They become tentative friends, not really so much liking each other but willing to get high together and AJ tries to use Jason to get drugs. However, when Jason learns of his father's life and how AJ's dad had played a part, he takes a desperate and possibly foolhardy attempt to find out more about the dad he never knew.

Like I said earlier, this isn't lightweight stuff. However, it is filmed so wonderfully and acted so glowingly that it is often fascinating.

As with any film that is sort of broken into three sections, some parts work better than others. The early scenes with Luke definitely are the most interesting, action-wise as well as in characters. Avery's section is a little more haphazard. Cooper is wonderful in the role and his tug-of-war with guilt is terrific, but the crooked cops’ sections have a bit of an overly familiar feel, even when those cops are played by actors as fantastic as Ray Liotta and Bruce Greenwood. The section between the two sons seems to have the most opportunity yet for dramatic conflict, but the sheer unlikability of AJ nearly overshadows Jason's more interesting part of the arc.

Still, even if The Place Beyond the Pines is not quite as devastatingly effective as Blue Valentine was, it is further proof that Cianfrance is a very gifted storyteller and visual stylist. The Place Beyond the Pines is a rather dark place, but it is one that should be seen.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2013 All rights reserved. Posted: March 27, 2013.

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