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Two men’s paths cross setting into a motion a rivalry that would span two generations in writer/director Derek Cianfrance’s quiet and reflective drama, The Place Beyond the Pines.
The film tells the story of an accomplished motorcycle stuntman, Luke Glanton (Ryan Gosling), who is going nowhere fast and is only interested in the ride. Ready to move on to the next town to perform, he is stopped in his tracks by a former lover, Romina (Eva Mendes) who informs him that their brief tryst produced a now one-year old son. Glanton decides to leave his profession to provide for his son and re-connects with an old friend and began to rob banks to give his son the opportunities that he never had.
His chosen profession puts him in the crosshairs of a young but ambitious local cop, Avery Cross (Bradley Cooper), who is looking for a quick way to move up in the ranks in his department. Their encounter sets the stage for the action in this epic crime thriller that features three separate but continuous narratives.
The film is a wonderful testament to fathers and sons, the influence that one generation has over another and how the absence of that male role model can have, sometimes, damning effects. Cianfrance’s storytelling is only one element on display in this fine masterpiece of a film as like a cinematic orchestra, each character gets an opportunity to spotlight their character’s skills. Much of the film focuses on quiet, reflective moments where each character expressions or the lush cinematography tell the story.
The film is also unsettling; constantly keeping the audience on pins and needles as the unpredictability of the story slowly unspools. It doesn’t hurt that he gets career performances from three cast members in Gosling, Bradley and Mendes. Gosling consistently has been solid especially in this role that has echoes of his masterful work in Drive. Even after he is warned, “If you ride like lightning, you’re going to crash like thunder,” Gosling continues like a quiet force of nature. But he is so much more in this film as he provides a presence that looms over the proceedings, even in his absence.
While Gosling comes as advertised, the films big surprise is Cooper who before his Oscar-nominated turn in Silver Linings Playbook was simply known as Mr. Hangover. As strong as he was in his previous award-nominated work, Cooper is even better here, providing the moral center that keeps the story on track, while contemplating how his actions and those of Glanton have continued to simultaneously haunt and inspire him to be a better man.
Mendes gets a chance to be more than the sexy sidepiece in a rare dramatic turn where here character brings some additional substance to the story. Ray Liotta, Rose Byrne, Ben Mendelsohn and Harris Yulan round out the fine supporting cast in Cianfrance’s cinematic triumph, which shows his tremendous growth from his earlier effort, Blue Valentine. The film’s title comes from the Indian word for the town of Schenectady, where the movie takes place. While The Place Beyond the Pines may not be a wonderful place to visit, Gosling and Cooper will make sure that it’s a place you’ll never forget.