The Place Beyond the Pines

Directed By: Derek Cianfrance

Starring: Ryan Gosling, Bradley Cooper, Eva Mendes, Ray Liotta, Ben Mendelsohn, Rose Byrne, Mahershala Ali, Bruce Greenwood, Harris Yulin, Dane DeHaan, Emory Cohen and Olga Merediz

"If you ride like lightning, you're gonna crash like thunder."

-Robin (Ben Mendelsohn)

I am a big advocate of filmmakers who take creative risks.  Many are so afraid of crashing and burning that they don't think or do anything outside the box, particularly in mainstream cinema.  Consequently, it's very rare that filmmakers take leaps and we catch that lightning in a bottle called movie magic.  In this weekend's The Place Beyond the Pines, director Derek Cianfrance (Blue Valentine) takes a big risk in the first chapter of his three-part tale of fathers and sons.  While it doesn't exactly pay off or create that movie magic we all know and love, I respect the fact that he takes the risk.

Luke Glanton (Ryan Gosling) is part of a group of traveling motorcyclists.  Luke and the Heartthrobs perform stunts at state fairs around the country.  While in Schenectady, New York in the past, Luke had a fling with a local girl named Romina (Eva Mendes).  When he returns to Schenectady some time later, he learns that she got pregnant and had his child, an infant named Jason.  Luke decides to quit his job as a motorcyclist and stay in New York to take care of Romina and Jason.  There are two problems with this, however.  Romina already has a man by the name of Kofi (Mahershala Ali), and Luke is broke.  Luke gets a job working at the auto repair shop of his new friend Robin (Mendelsohn), but that's not enough to pay the bills.  With Robin's help, Luke turns to a life of crime and starts robbing banks.

The son of federal judge Al Cross (Harris Yulin), Avery Cross (Bradley Cooper) is a rookie in the Schenectady police department.  He's married to a loving wife by the name of Jennifer (Rose Byrne) and has an infant son named AJ.  He's been in the line of fire for approximately six months now, and he gets a taste of some real action when Luke Glanton races his way while fleeing a bank robbery.  He pursues Glanton on his own and chases him into a nearby family home.  When he encounters the armed thief face-to-face, Avery makes a tough decision that will have ramifications for both his son AJ (Emory Cohen) and Luke's son Jason (Dane DeHaan) when they grow up.

Derek Cianfrance may have bitten off more than he can chew in The Place Beyond the Pines, but this doesn't stop him from crafting an intriguing drama that spans multiple generations and boldly tackles many different themes, wisely or not.  The cast delivers mostly solid performances and manages to keep the audience engaged despite some risky creative moves and the film's slow pacing, which is becoming characteristic of Cianfrance’s works.  All in all, The Place Beyond the Pines is an entertaining flick that gets the job done, even if it isn't perfect.

At the core of The Place Beyond the Pines is a predictable tale of fathers, sons, and the choices they make.  The movie unfolds in three chapters.  The first is about Luke and how he turns to a life of crime.  The second is about Avery and his tumultuous life as a rookie cop.  The final act is 15 years later and tackles the consequences of the lives these two men have chosen to live and what this means for their sons who "conveniently" connect at a high school in Troy.  It's a lot to cover in just under two and a half hours, but Cianfrance doesn't shy away from the task.  He just doesn't quite get it right.

There are ten too many themes that Cianfrance tangentially covers in The Place Beyond the Pines.  He talks about how the desperation of poverty can lead to crime, how some dads are marginalized as deadbeats without having had a chance with their kids, how the split-second life-or-death decisions cops make in the line of duty can have irrevocable consequences, how guilt can eat away at a person's moral fabric, and even how corruption perpetuates itself in the police force.  There are a litany of others I haven't even mentioned that Cianfrance tackles.  This is all just too much for a movie that's supposed to be about fathers and sons.  Simply bringing up these themes doesn't do his audience or the movie justice.  If Cianfrance had chosen only a couple of these themes and really delved into them, he could have had a far more potent crime drama.

For the most part, the cast delivers decent performances and keeps us engaged.  Ryan Gosling is undoubtedly the MVP of the movie.  As Luke Glanton, he channels a bit of the badass criminal we saw from him in Drive; his character is just a bit more emotional in this performance.  He gives a combustible yet charming performance that will captivate you.  The problem is that he just doesn't get enough screen time.  The risky creative decision that Cianfrance makes takes his star actor out of the movie in the first chapter, which is just not good for the movie.  Fresh from Silver Linings Playbook, Bradley Cooper turns in a solid performance as Schenectady cop Avery Cross.  He carries the film through its second and third chapters and tries to fill the void Gosling leaves.  While he does overact at times, Cooper's performance once again signals that he's more than just a comedic actor.

Amongst the supporting cast, we have some solid performances.  Eva Mendes and Rose Byrne turn in some of their best work in a while as Romina and Jennifer respectively.  Veteran actors Bruce Greenwood (Flight) and Ray Liotta (Killing Them Softly) bring quite a bit of sharp wit to the film.  The two most prominent supporting cast members, however, are Dane DeHaan and Emory Cohen.  For his part, DeHaan gives a decent performance as Luke's son Jason.  The Chronicle star really captures this conflicted character well and mimics many of the things that made Gosling's character so damn enjoyable to watch.  As Avery's son AJ, Emory Cohen doesn't get the job done.  This tough-talking, drug-loving high school student looks less like the son of a cop and grandson of a federal judge and more like a product of some hard life on the streets.  It doesn't add up to me, and Cohen's mediocre performance only exacerbates the situation.

Despite its many flaws, The Place Beyond the Pines is an engaging crime drama that gets by mostly on the charms of its characters.  Derek Cianfrance tries to do too much and takes a big creative risk that doesn't pay off.  It costs him dearly because this movie with its uber-talented cast could have been so much better.  The Place Beyond the Pines gets a strong 0.06% rating.  Have a couple of glasses of Moscato with this one.