By Hope Madden
Sure, The Place Beyond the Pines is a bank robber movie starring three weirdly attractive A-listers (Ryan Gosling, Eva Mendes, Bradley Cooper). But this layered, complex film about men and the sins they pass on hopes to be a lot more than that.
What co-writer/director Derek Cianfrance (Blue Valentine) has crafted is a generational drama about fathers, sons and consequences.
The Place Beyond the Pines tells its story in three parts. Each part introduces us to a new, young male lead as he makes a life-altering decision. Their individual tales are aided immeasurably by great supporting turns from Mendes and Ben Mendelsohn (making a name for himself playing the guy our hero would be better off not knowing), but Cianfrance’s interest is in the young men – their choices, how they were affected by their fathers, and how they will affect their sons.
Act 1 follows Gosling’s stunt motorcyclist Luke as he tries to claim the family he didn’t know he had. We move to Cooper’s rookie cop in the second act, who walks the compromised line between justice and ambition. Act 3 brings us full circle.
Cianfrance’s lens casts a bittersweet small town spell, and his actors – an exceptional Gosling in particular – develop fully formed, flawed, compelling characters. The filmmaker’s smart script and patient camera give the talent the time and content they need to mine the depths of each character. Unfortunately, this borderline Greek tragedy just loses steam.
Whether Parts 2 and 3 feel like middling efforts because Gosling’s smolder is missing or because Cianfrance’s interest lies elsewhere is hard to tell. Taken on their own, the second and third acts amount to a solid family drama; compared with the livewire of Act 1, though, they let you down just a bit.
It feels like Cianfrance just bit off more than he could chew, but it’s hard to knock him for ambition. Pines veers as wildly as Handsome Luke’s motorcycle, and it doesn’t always find its way back. Cianfrance tries too hard, covers too much, but he does it with such passion and such cinematic skill that he can be forgiven.