The Place Beyond the Pines

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Robin Clifford of Reeling Reviews
Robin Clifford 
The Place Beyond the Pines
Laura Clifford of Reeling Reviews
Laura Clifford 

Luke (Ryan Gosling) is a daring stunt motorcyclist at a traveling carnival performing near where his ex-girlfriend, Romina (Eva Mendez), now lives. He learns that she had his child he wants her back and will do anything to make this happen, including robbing banks. This newly found career is destined to fail badly when he crosses path with an ambitious rookie policeman, Avery Cross (Bradley Cooper), in “The Place Beyond the Pines.”

Robin:
Director Derek Cianfrance actually gives us three movies in one. I do not mean that it is broken into chapters. It is three stories strung together in a weave that unravels by the final act. The first is about Luke and his ex-girlfriend Romina and his gallant, but doomed, attempt to win back her and their son. He decides to finance his courting by robbing a bank and making his getaway on a motorcycle. The heist goes off so well that Luke decides to do it again and again and again…. Sooner or later, though, something will go wrong, and does.

The second film follows police officer Avery Cooper after his career-defining collision with Luke in the line of duty. His story is about his rise in the police department and, later, in a run for Attorney General of New York. Corrupt cops, stolen evidence and the stink of cover up make up most of Avery’s tale of ambition.

The last movie, the worst of the three, focuses on Luke and Avery’s sons, Jason (Dane DeHaan) and Luke (Craig Van Hook) in high school. This part feels like it was made by another filmmaker – or, director Cianfrance was sick of the film and just wanted part three to end. The sons are both miscast, especially Jack, who acts and sounds like he grew up in Brooklyn and not the heir of the future AG. DeHaan is very competent young actor but who could possibly think he is the son of Romina?

Movie one is the best of the trilogy, mainly due to the smoldering performance by Ryan Gosling as Luke. Eva Mendez, looking very unglamorous here, appears in the first two “films” and gives a sorrowful edge to her Romina. The middle story is about power, greed and corruption with Bradley Cooper giving a solid though unmemorable performance. The last and least puts Luke and Avery’s sons at the forefront and could have been left out completely, making “The Place in the Pines” a case of steadily diminishing returns. I give it a B.

Laura:
Handsome Luke (Ryan Gosling, "Drive") has just finished another stint sphere cycling in a traveling carny when he spots a beautiful woman (a very deglamorized Eva Mendes, "Holy Motors").  'Do you remember my name? Romina asks. She doesn't have time for a 'date' like she did the last time he was in town, but when Luke drives her home he finds out she's been spending her time raising their child and he wants to do right.  Luke stays in town and gets a part time job with local mechanic Rob (Ben Mendelsohn, "Animal Kingdom," terrific yet again), but the real money's in robbing banks. When Rob wants out, Luke pulls that last, fated job and crosses paths with local cop Avery Cross (Bradley Cooper, "Silver Linings Playbook"), whose chance meeting with Luke will reverberate through his life just as it has Romina's.  Cross is moved by the family Luke left behind, but in trying to do the right thing he ends up on the bad side of the corrupt Schenectady police department who attempt to dispatch him in "The Place Beyond the Pines."

Cowriter (with Ben Coccio ("Zero Day") and Darius Marder)/director Derek Cianfrance's second film is much more ambitious than his intimate "Blue Valentine," a three-part epic of fathers and sons, criminality and the law that is beautifully crafted.  Unfortunately what could have been a great film becomes contrived when the filmmaker turns his focus to his first generation's progeny and his romanticism of the outlaw hero sends a muddled message.

Gosling, who after this should start his own iconic jacket line, is perfectly cast as a James Dean type rebel.  The taciturn Luke has a big heart, but turns violent when obstacles get in his way.  When he finds Romina, she is living with Kofi (Mahershala Ali, HBO's 'Treme,' TV's 'House of Cards'), a supportive man who has provided a home for her, her mother (Olga Merediz, "One for the Money") and another man's child (and it is noteworthy that Cianfrance has cast a black man as the stable stepfather).  Romina clearly loves Luke, or at least the idea of Luke, but she knows he means danger and instability.  In a seminal scene, Luke arranges for a family photo, taken in front of a roadside stand, Romina's smiling face hidden by his hand and the picture, however sweet, suggests impermanence and self deception.

The film is thrilling when Luke and Rob rob their first bank, Luke's expertise in two-wheeled speed creating hair-raising getaways capped by a clever disappearing act.  But when Luke tries to physically move into his son's life in Kofi's home, his reaction to Kofi's reasonable stance brands him a psychopath.  His last desperate robbery turns into home invasion and Cross is the unlucky cop on the scene.

Bradley Cooper invests Cross with All American godhood, the upstanding, good-looking son of a judge (Harris Yulin, "Training Day") trying to do good as his own man, but he makes a fatal mistake that day and it haunts the rest of his life.  But he's celebrated as a hero and when Detective Deluca (Ray Liotta at his most menacing) and his cronies show up at his home one night, he's plunged into a nightmare.  His attempt to do right by Romina is met with disdain, his chief refuses to play confessor and he's forced to turn to his dad for help.  Al Cross brokers a deal that puts his son on a political fast track but takes him away from his wife (Rose Byrne, "Bridesmaids," "Insidious") and his own son, AJ.

And here is where the film begins its slide.  Cianfrance jumps ahead fifteen years and we catch up with Luke's son Jason (Dane DeHaan, "Chronicle"), a quiet teen still embraced in the loving home created by his mom and Kofi but a little lost.  Meanwhile Avery's now divorced wife tells him that his troubled son AJ (Emory Cohen, TV's 'Smash') wants to come and live with him and when AJ switches high schools, he gloms right onto Jason, insisting that he not only attend a party at his dad's manse, but that he supply the drugs.  For no discernible reason, Jason goes along and lands in trouble, bringing him to Avery's attention.  Avery realizes who Jason is and insists AJ leave the kid alone, but there would be no more movie if he did.

The film is structured like a novel or one of those catalogs whose front and back covers are flipped, each of their content meeting in the middle, and the setup is rich and multi-layered. But AJ, as played by Cohen, is so far beyond an entitled brat he makes no sense, speaking like a Jersey gangster, all hair product and gold chains.  DeHaan is a terrific young actor who makes us feel his paternal need but even he cannot sell the influence AJ's character has on his own. Cianfrance's wrap with a sentimental ode to the outlaw feels hollow, a need to work his 'sins of the father' theme smashing up against logic.  Instead we are left believing there is more honor among thieves.

B-
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