Verdict: 4 / 5
Set amidst the lush green rolling hills of Schenectady, writer-director Derek Cianfrance’s ambitious film The Place Beyond the Pines roars into a brooding drama about tragedy and redemption that spans two generations of two families. Gut-wrenching bank heists, speeding motorbikes and thrilling police chases aside, it’s an achingly sincere look at the effect of one violent act that shaped two families from two very different spectrums of life. Made up of three interlocking stories, it’s a palpable step up from Blue Valentine, with Cianfrance challenging Ryan Gosling into another convincing and commanding performance, flexing his leading man acting abilities.
Gosling stars as Luke, a motorcycle stunt rider covered in cheap tattoos and peroxide blond hair, a man without a care in the world. He is surprised to learn that an old fling, Romina (Eva Mendes), secretly gave birth to his child while he was away. The news makes him reconsider his ways and he resolves to stay and be part of the boy’s life. His decision complicates Romina’s stable relationship with Kofi (Mahershala Ali), her well together boyfriend. Soon Luke, at the advice of his seedy mechanic friend (Ben Mendelsohn), is robbing banks across the city in hopes to cater for the wellbeing of his new family. The focus of the film changes completely when Luke’s reckless new life sees him clash with a family man and rookie cop, Avery Cross (Bradley Cooper). The film then jumps ahead 15 years where Luke and Avery’s sons (Dane DeHaan and Emory Cohen) take the lead.
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Cianfrance’s ambitious narrative, which spans three lengthy chapters (the Luke chapter, the Avery chapter and the finale with their sons), might not be the film’s strongest point, but is made up of a number of gripping moments. The film would have been better received had it ended with the Avery chapter. That being said, the finale does bring closure to the story, filling in the blanks and revealing the true purpose being the story. This is a story about sons bearing the punishment for their father’s iniquities.
The Place Beyond the Pines is an engrossing and really well acted film.