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The Place Beyond the Pines - Cinemaholic Movie Reviews
one person's obsessive addiction to film
The Place Beyond the Pines
Directing: A-
Acting: A
Writing: A-
Cinematography: A
Editing: A-

The Place Beyond the Pines, a rare movie that both takes its time and is better for it, opens with an extended, uninterrupted shot of the back of Ryan Gosling. It's not a bad view. More importantly, it establishes clearly who is the key character in this multi-part story. The camera follows him from what I suppose is sort of a makeshift dressing room, from seemingly one end of a carnival to the other, until he reaches his motorcycle. He is "Handsome Luke," the most popular of three motorcyclists who zip past each other riding circles inside a giant metal sphere. This is how he makes his living. You can imagine it's not much of a living.

Gosling has made a career out of his singular poise. He puts it to unique use as Luke, a guy with eerie calm, who is incredibly naïve, and turns out to have a bit of a dangerous temper. He actually resorts to very brief physical violence only once onscreen, but it is very effective and says a lot about his character. For some time, the audience is lulled into feeling empathy for him. Naturally he would be upset by finding out he is a father a year after the baby is born.

One might wonder why Romina (Eva Mendes) showed up to meet him at the carnival in the first place. Maybe just because he's back in town? She doesn't tell Luke he is a father. He finds out when he shows up at Romina's door the next night, and Romina's mother answers the door holding the baby.

So: The Place Beyond the Pines can be divided up into three distinct parts, and Luke is the focus of the first third. He befriends a local loner mechanic (Ben Mendelsohn) who gives him a job. But when Luke discovers the job doesn't pay what he needs to take care of the baby he feels a moral obligation toward, the mechanic reveals he's robbed banks and can help him do the same. It sounds contrived but it never comes across that way; nearly everything in this film, which could so easily have been a disastrous in other people's hands, seems to happen organically and with natural progression. Luke sees no alternative: he starts robbing banks. Easily deluded, he thinks he can keep getting away with it, and gets reckless -- especially when the mechanic wisely decides to bow out of aiding him.

There is a pivotal moment when Luke is caught up by the authorities after a fantastically staged, tense chase scene after Luke's final bank robbery. Luke holes himself up in an upstairs room of someone's house. And in comes Officer Avery (Bradley Cooper), nearly an hour into the film. He just happens to be the closest officer to where Luke ends up. Avery closes in on Luke, busts open the door, and shots are fired. Who shot first becomes a very, very important matter: legally, morally, and emotionally.

And from there, gears shift completely, and now we're getting Avery's story -- starting from that point. Avery is hailed as a hero. Avery is ambivalent about this but he also has political ambitions. He gets into a seriously sticky situation when, while still at home in recovery from a gunshot wound in the leg, several cop friends show up (including one played Ray Liotta, who gets third billing even though his part is pretty short, because, well, he's Ray Liotta) and whisk him away for some "police work." Avery's ambivalence continues as they go to Romina's house, search it without a warrant, and find the bank robbery money Luke left her. They then divide the money amongst themselves and give the lion's share of it to Avery. It's important to note that Avery is -- believably -- uncomfortable with this.

And now it becomes a different story altogether. Instead of a sad, doomed love story, it's a story about sticky police ethics. Gosling and Cooper share only one, very brief scene together, but they are both very well cast in these roles. Cooper is absolutely believable as an idealistic rookie cop on the brink of disillusioned cynicism. As it happens, there may be a way for all of this to work to the advantage of Avery's political future.

So then we come to the biggest jump of all: to fifteen years later. Avery is a District Attorney, divorced, with a semi-delinquent teenage son, AJ (Emery Cohen). Most of this movie is refreshingly unpredictable, taking turns you would never expect, but the "twist" of AJ ending up befriending Romina's son, Jason (Chronicle's Dane DeHaan), is something we see coming a mile away. If there is any one flaw to this film, it's this. But the film overall is so completely absorbing -- expertly acted, and beautifully shot -- that it's easy to forgive.

So the third part is in away another love story, albeit a platonic one, between these two boys -- with reverberating implications for Romina and Avery. Rarely is a film so wide in scope so successful at clarity of themes and storytelling. This was directed and co-written by Derek Cianfrance, who also brought us Blue Valentine, an equally accomplished film (also starring Ryan Gosling). This is compelling drama at its best, and the kind of movie that holds up cinema as a vital art form.

Ryan Gosling is just one of three compelling, yet intertwines, stories in THE PLACE BEYOND THE PINES.

Overall: A
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