The Place Beyond the Pines

© 2013 Ray Wong

Writer-Director Derek Cianfrance made a great impression with Blue Valentine. He re-teams with star Ryan Gosling in another gripping drama, The Place Beyond the Pines that explores the intricate consequences of a person's actions.

Luke (Ryan Gosling) is a drifter who works as a stunt motorcyclist at a traveling carnival. Back in town, he discovers that his old fling Romina (Eva Mendes) is keeping a big secret from him -- that he has a son, Jason. Determined to stick around and provide for Jason, Luke tries his best to hold a job at a body shop owned by Robin (Ben Mendelsohn). Then through Ben, Luke gets involved in a series of bank robberies.

Unlike Robin, Luke doesn't know when to stop when things get too hot. Desperate, Luke gets into a crossfire with police officer Avery (Bradley Cooper) after a blotched robbery. Their crossed paths created a seismic shift in Avery's life, as he struggles with the outcome of what happened.

Years later, Avery's path crosses with Jason (Dane DeHaan) again. The consequences of his and Luke's actions years ago still ripple through their lives as Avery campaigns for the seat of State Attorney General while trying to connect with his own son AJ (Emory Cohen).

Ryan Gosling (Gangster Squad) is fantastic in the moody, complicated role of Luke. He embodies the character in both body, mind and soul and delivers a tour-de-force performance that is sure to generate some super-early award buzz. As his counterpart, Bradley Cooper (Silver Linings Playbook) has never been better in a more savvy and manipulative role as Avery. The two actors have only one brief scene together, but separately, they help glue the two parts of the film together in a mesmerizing way.

Eva Mendes (Holy Motors) finally finds a dramatic role that lets her show off her talent. As Romina, Mendes displays a nice depth as a woman who is torn between her love for the wrong man and doing the right thing for her son and herself. Ben Mendelsohn (The Dark Knight Rises) is impressive -- and channeling Sam Rockwell -- as the man that starts Luke down a path of no return. The supporting cast also includes strong performances from Rose Bryne (The Help) as Avery's neglected wife, Ray Liotta (Bad Karma) as a corrupt cop, Bruce Greenwood (Flight) as a DA.

The two young actors who play Luke's and Avery's sons are, too, to be commended. Dane DeHaan (Chronicle) is superbly moody (just like Luke) as Jason, and Emory Cohen (Four) is solid as the cocky, messed up AJ.

Written and directed by Derek Cianfrance (Blue Valentine), the screenplay boasts a gripping story that, through intricate intersecting threads and plot development, connects us with a varied group of characters. Cianfrance's story explores the themes of consequences, and how these consequences could have impacts and effects for years to come. It also explores the question of what is good and what is bad? Luke is supposed to be the bad guy -- he abandons Romina; he robs banks; he is reckless and violent. Avery is supposedly the good guy -- upstanding, heroic, and smart with a great family. And yet in The Place Beyond the Pines, the line between good and bad is blurry. The characters are three-dimensional, complex and intriguing. They make mistakes, with dire consequences. And that makes them extraordinarily human.

The intersecting plot lines also take us on a wild ride. We follow Luke, Romina and Jason for the first part of the film, then the film switches gear and now we're following Avery. The shift is coherent and essential, while exploring the same themes of morality, crime, and fatherhood. That said, the plot does seem forced at times, especially in the third act, as Cianfrance tries a bit too hard to connect the dots and come full circle.

What is mesmerizing is Cianfrance's gritty, intense and personal style of direction. From the very first frame to the last, the movie doesn't let the audience go. The movie does slow down and flounder somewhat in pace and tone during the third act, but it picks up again near the ending. Over all, Cianfrance's direction is impressive, stylistic and dramatic -- all in very good ways.

The Place Beyond the Pines is a superb drama that explores deep, personal, and troubling themes in very realistic ways with very realistic, relatable characters whose lives intersect and connect with one another's through the dire consequences. It has earned a place in my heart as one of the best films of the year so far.

Stars: Ryan Gosling, Bradley Cooper, Eva Mendes, Ben Mendelsohn, Rose Bryne, Ray Liotta, Bruce Greenwood, Dane DeHaan, Emory Cohen
Director: Derek Cianfrance
Writers: Derek Cianfrance, Ben Coccio
Distributor: Focus
MPAA Rating:  R for language, violence, teen drug and alcohol use, sexual content
Running Time: 140 minutes


Script - 8
Performance - 8
Direction - 8
Cinematography - 7
Music/Sound - 7
Editing - 7
Production - 7

Total - 7.8 out of 10.0 

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