Film Reviews

The Place Beyond the Pines Derek Cianfrance

Rating - 7/10

It’s time for us dudes to admit that Ryan Gosling is a genuine movie star, in the traditional sense. Sure, all the figurative panties thrown at him night and day in the media and even in our own homes (I’m looking at you, baby) can drive one to distraction, but the guy has charisma, star quality, “IT”. If Drive didn’t convince you, and it should have, The Place Beyond the Pines probably will, if only because once he leaves the screen halfway through, you find yourself strangely missing him, like an old friend who moved to South America and promised to keep in touch but never did. With the former film, Gosling seemed to have an acting breakthrough, dropping the showy quirks and posing of earlier performances (see Murder by Numbers), and achieving a Zen-like quietude onscreen that has only made his personality more magnetic. Thanks in large part to Gosling, I loved Drive and really liked a good portion of Pines.

Actually, the way this film is structured gives us a perfect test-case for assessing the actors’ juice; the first half dominated by Gosling, the second by Bradley Cooper, fresh off heaps of praise for the entertaining Silver Linings Playbook. Cooper, a blindingly handsome fellow with a winning and vulnerable openness in his eyes (Jesus Christ, I sound like Tiger Beat), is eminently watchable. But while it’s fun to watch him on screen, Gosling has developed to the point where he demands your attention, no matter who else is in frame. Eva Mendes, for all her charms, is out of her depth playing his baby mama; you can see her working all the time. The only actor who goes toe to toe with Gosling is the Aussie Ben Mendelsohn, who plays his partner in crime. By the way, has anyone noticed that now foreign actors are better at playing American characters than Americans are?  Mendelsohn brings urgency and pathos to the role and the scenes between the two of them crackle with life. Ray Liotta plays Ray Liotta, with an extra dab of Liotta on top. He is a corrupt cop, who internal affairs should be able to nail just by looking at his evil smirk, and who helps pull Cooper’s inexperienced officer over to the dark side. 

Here’s the basic story:  Luke (Gosling) is a motorcyclist with a traveling carnival who knocked up Romina (Mendes) last time through town, and upon discovering he’s a father, decides to quit is peripatetic life and settle down to meet his responsibilities the way his father never did. Unfortunately Romina has a boyfriend, Kofi (Mahershala Ali), who isn’t hep to Luke’s jive. Luke is well-intentioned but ill-equipped to deal with fatherhood and therefore makes a series of bad decisions, among which entering the bank robbing field with newfound friend Robin (Mendelsohn) is the worst. This inevitably heads towards disaster and a confrontation with both Kofi and young cop Avery (Cooper). This significantly impacts Avery’s life in a number of ways, and the rest of story belongs to him and the two sons, Avery’s and Luke’s. It finally becomes a story about what is handed down to the next generation, how the sins of the fathers are inherited by the sons. 

Director Derek Cianfrance shows great skill with his second feature film, particularly in action scenes where he wisely employs the Bourne Identity rule. This is where you eschew the modern trend for jerky camera movement and quick cutting and let the viewers see as much of what is going on as possible. This is why Matt Damon went from being “kind of a Streisand” to a macho action star overnight – we actually saw him kicking ass and believed it.  Cianfrance goes a step further by filming the robbing scenes in long takes that make them play out in real time, creating an amazing level of suspense and tension.  Unfortunately, when the story shifts toward domestic matters, it remains compelling but feels a bit deflated. As we focus on the two sons, AJ and Jason (Emory Cohen and Dane DeHaan), we miss Gosling’s presence and the action sequences that feel climactic but are front-loaded here. DeHaan captures some of Gosling’s vulnerability, if not his charisma, but Cohen is asked to play a stereotypical, gangsta JV that comes off more as a precocious imitation than a good performance. 

Cianfrance gives us an interesting, ironic twist on the epic family drama, and the story will make you contemplate your own inheritance and the one you may pass on. By defying Elizabethan conventions and sticking the climactic Act 4 in Act 2, he pays the price as the movie ends up feeling lopsided.  But any film whose style and implications resonate long after the lights come up is worth seeing.