“The Place Beyond the Pines” is an epic tale of crime and corruption, and fathers and sons.
It’s a generational tale, complete with bank robberies, kidnappings, corrupt police officers, drug deals, and death. It’s a lengthy tale that shifts perspectives multiple times. Regardless, it will hold your attention all the way through, as the drama grabs hold and doesn’t let go.
Luke Gaston (Ryan Gosling) is a motorcycle stuntman working in a carnival side-show act. When his troupe returns to Altamont, NY, he’s visited by an old flame, Romina (Eva Mendes). When Luke tries to circle back with her after the show, he’s surprised to learn that she has a child now, and that the boy is his.
Feeling a sense of obligation, Luke quits the show and decides to stay in town to try to provide for the child in spite of the fact that Romina doesn’t want him in the boy’s life. Unsure of what he’ll be able to do for work, he falls in with Robin (Ben Mendelsohn), an auto repair shop owner who puts forth a risky proposition. If Luke really wants to take care of the kid, he should start robbing banks.
As Luke and Robin experience a few early successes, the local PD start to close in. One cop in particular, Avery Cross (Bradley Cooper), gets deeply entangled. Avery is a straight shooter with a young child of his own. But when other members of the department offer to involve him in their illicit activities, including trying to confiscate and not turn in the proceeds from Gaston’s heists, Avery finds himself caught in a dilemma. Does he play ball with the dirty cops, and enjoy the ill-gotten gains? Or does he do the right thing, in spite of the risks involved to his career and family?
“The Place Behind the Pines” shifts perspectives between these two men, almost as if it were telling different chapters in the same story. It’s thoughtfully paced, and certainly not brief (runtime: 2:20), but that’s not to imply that its boring, or dull in any way. There’s always an emotional weight involved, no matter what point of the story you’re at. You’ll feel the enormity and consequences of the decisions that the characters make. Every choice has repercussions. The decisions and actions here are always supercharged by the fact that behind every move and manuever, there’s a family. It’s a very dramatic (albeit very long) tale.
Gosling’s Luke and Cooper’s Avery are mirror images of each other. One is a criminal whose father abandoned him, now breaking the law in order to try to provide for his infant son. The other is a cop whose father put a silver spoon in his mouth growing up, trying to uphold the law in spite of the fact it may jeopardize his job and thus his ability to provide for his family. It’s a clever inversion, especially given the way the baton passes between stories, it’s almost as if the movie is a coin, flipping in mid-air to land on the other side. In both cases, however, the sins of the father are visited upon the sons.
It’s also a beautifully shot film. There’s numerous visually striking images of forests and roadways. The action sequences are all well crafted, as well. Your pulse will quicken as Luke “rides like lighting” away from banks and cops. For the most part, however, the film is a crime drama, relying on its great script and superb performances in order to involve the audience. Director Derek Cianfrance (of “Blue Valentine” fame) does an outstanding job getting great performances across the board and keeping the story riveting in spite of its enormous runtime and shifts in central character.
Despite it’s lengthy runtime, “The Place Beyond the Pines” never lost my attention. It’s a movie with an epic scope and a great story to tell, featuring excellent performances from two of today’s biggest names in Cooper and Gosling. There are a small number of issues that keep it from earning any “plusses” from me, but this is still a movie with top ten potential for 2013.