Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Genre: Drama, Crime
Run Time: 2 hours, 20 minutes, Rated R
Starring: Ryan Gosling, Eva Mendes, Mahershala Ali, Ben Mendelsohn, Bradley Cooper, Rose Byrne, Bruce Greenwood, Ray Liotta, Harris Yulin,
Dane DeHaan, Emory Cohen
Co-Written and Directed by Derek Cianfrance (Blue Valentine)
Director Derek Cianfrance created a raw, mesmerizing and poignant character study back in 2010, with his debut film, Blue Valentine. He follows that up with The Place Beyond the Pines (opening today), an ambitious and downright daring film that shares the same tone as his first film.
Pines is really a trilogy all rolled into one, with three distinct stories rolled out one after the other. The stories are connected by characters, but also by themes of fatherhood, the relationship between a father and his son, friendship and the choices people make. It doesn't always work, but it is a gripping dramatic achievement.
The first arc begins with Ryan Gosling at the center as Luke, a hardened motorcycle stunt driver at a traveling carnival. The opening, long tracking shot sets the tone. Gosling creates a compelling character, but his actions make it very hard for us to sympathize with him. We learn that he has fathered a child the last time he swung through town and even though the mother (Eva Mendes, in a career-best performance) has moved on with her life, Luke is intent on shoehorning his way into his son's life. To prove himself, he stoops to robbing banks - the idea came from his closest friend (Ben Mendelsohn, great as always) - in order to provide for his baby boy.
This first story has us sympathize with look to a certain point, because nobody wants to see a fatherless child. But we see Luke make bad choices. His best friend presents him with an opportunity and Luke chooses poorly.
When things go horribly wrong for Luke, we are thrust next into a story involving a young beat cop Avery (Bradley Cooper). Where policemen represented the good guys a bit earlier, now we find ourselves in a world of corruption and bad cops. Again, our protagonist is presented with some options and is forced to make tough decisions with lasting impacts.
Then we flash forward about 15 years or so for the third story, revolving around Jason (Dane DeHaan) and AJ (Emory Cohen), the sons of Luke and Avery.
We hear briefly that Luke's dad was a deadbeat and a poor father. Although we never see him, we surmise how Luke grew into the man that he is. We do get to meet Avery's father, a retired and respected politician, so we understand Avery's upbringing as well. Seeing both Avery and Luke, we also are informed as to how AJ and Jason choose to live their lives.
There has maybe never been a film with a 140 minute run time like this one, where every minute seems vital to the story. It's precisely constructed yet it is sprawling. Cianfrance expands his repertoire from the dramatic realism of Blue Valentine and creates deeply effective chase and action sequences. But Pines is a drama, much more interested in journey than in destination.
Each subsequent story is weaker than the one it followed, an levels of story, acting and overall effectiveness. Although there was some disappointment at how little these tales payed off in the end, I did like how Cianfrance doesn't implicitly explain every character connection. Like in his first film, we are given characters who aren't good guys or bad guys, just flawed individuals who are forced to live with the choices they make.
The Place Beyond the Pines falls short of greatness, but lives as another impressive directorial effort from Derek Cianfrance. Rarely has a drama tried to say so much, without really saying anything in the end.
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