The Place Beyond the Pines is a new dramatic epic following the lives of two fathers and their sons. The movie reunites director Derek Cianfrance with actor Ryan Gosling. It also features strong dramatic performances from Bradley Cooper, Eve Mendes and Dane DeHaan.
It starts out telling Gosling's story. He plays Luke, a stunt dirt bike rider for a traveling circus. We get a strong sense of a boiling anger inside Gosling's character from the first shot of the film, in which he's quickly folding and unfolding a butterfly knife before his performance. Afterward, he's approached by Eve Mendes' Romina, who we learn gave birth to the couple's child after the last time they were together.
This convinces Luke to stay in town and try to care for Romina and their son, Jason. Struggling to earn money, Luke is convinced to rob a bank with the man he's working with. This sends Luke down a path of destruction as he becomes greedy and tries to take on too many robbery jobs. As the story progresses, we see more and more evidence of Luke's volatile temper, until his final bank robbery.
This is by far the best and most emotionally significant portion of the film. Gosling's performance as Luke will no doubt be compared to his quiet, brooding character of driver in 2011's Drive. Unfortunately from here, the movie has nowhere to go but down.
Cooper's story picks up after Gosling's. He plays a rookie police officer and former law student named Avery. After stopping a violent crime, Avery is wounded in the line of fire. He is hailed as a hero by the police force but more or less forced to become involved in some crooked police business. Being a dirty cop does not sit well with Avery, and he risks everything to bring down the officers responsible for rampant corruption.
I started to find my interest in the movie fading once we move on to Cooper's character. While he does a great job in the film, it just seemed too far against the type of character we're used to seeing Cooper play. The movie also gets much more dramatic and loses a lot of the action felt in the first story. Whenever a film has you looking down at your watch, it's never a good sign.
The third story of the film follows the sons of both Gosling's Luke and Cooper's Avery. Dane DeHaan plays the teenage version of Gosling's son, Jason. When Cooper's character runs for public office, his son A.J. moves in with him and meets Jason in school. The two hit it off by smoking pot with each other and from the instant they meet, it becomes obvious both of these characters' pasts will collide violently.
The Place Beyond the Pines certainly feels epic in the story it tells, spanning more than 15 years. Overall everything works, but the switch to Cooper's character felt extremely jarring. Once his story begins, there's a strong disconnect. If made into a short film centered on Gosling's Luke, this could have been a much more interesting film.
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