Grade: A-


Directed by Derek Cianfrance

Starring: Ryan Gosling, Eva Mendes, Bradley Cooper, Ray Liotta, Rose Byrne, Dan DeHaan, Emory Cohen

Derek Cianfrance is one of the most prolific new directors to rise in the past decade. Blue Valentine will always be one of my favorite subtle, slice-of-life dramas. Part of that is in the way everything looks and feels, but also in how Cianfrance is able to get very real performances out of the actors.

The Place Beyond the Pines is his newest attempt at realistic storytelling, though it's clear that he's been able to pull a little more, budget-wise, out of the studios. Dark and depressed drama meets Hollywood action in this story of a motorcycle stunt driver turned bank robber starring Ryan Gosling, Eva Mendes, Bradley Cooper, and Ray Liotta.

Luke (played with interesting quality by Gosling) finds out he's fathered a child with a former love interest, the beautiful and troubled Romina (Mendes, baring all without makeup in a roll that should get some attention). Even though Romina has moved on, Luke finds it his responsibility to find a way to provide for their son. After settling in town with an easygoing auto repairman, Luke decides to carve his own path and begin robbing banks, using his dirt bike as a means for escape. When the bank robbing starts to get too risky, Luke finds himself having a bad day and ending up on the run from cops and inside a stranger's house. The chance for survival is diminished when a police officer, Avery Cross (Cooper, in almost as good of a turn as he had in Silver Linings Playbook), follows him inside. The events that occur next will follow each character until the end when, 15 years later, their sons find themselves in each other's crosshairs, dealing with pent up frustrations from the generation before them.

It's a clever concept that sometimes feels a little forced, especially in the third act. When the words "15 YEARS LATER" flashed onscreen the audience had a hard time not chuckling. But, Cianfrance's ability to tell a story keeps the action moving and never feeling too unnecessary. However, where Blue Valentine chose realism over Hollywood antics, The Place Beyond the Pines has a hard time grappling realism for unrealistic thrills. Ray Liotta pops up as a corrupt cop who leads Cross into strange, bad cop territory that seemed almost too unbelievable other than to serve its purpose to help link the story. And, while the sons meeting up in their high school years and becoming entangled in their own drama isn't quite unrealistic, it also feels somewhat forced as a tool to try and wrap up some sense of a story.

A lot of people find faults in Cianfrance's work, stating that it just never goes anywhere. I think that's the point, though. Blue Valentine worked as a slice of these unfortunate people's life, giving a glimpse into the different aspects of a marriage. The Place Beyond the Pines works in the same sense, adding to the equation the elements of surprise and action. It's as if Cianfrance saw Drive and decided he'd add an extra something to the script.

The camera work is run of the mill, but the score by Mike Patton is brilliant. The film, seeming to be set in the late 80's/early 90's at the start, feels very much like a throwback to an 80's action flick disguised as an emotional drama, subtle synthesizers and all.

The best thing a movie can do is cause you to think and feel long after the credits role and The Place Beyond the Pines does just that. The characters seem real enough, thanks to some awards-worthy performances (especially Cooper and Mendes), to call to mind people we've seen in our own lives. And, while some of the aspects of the story seem a little reaching, the movie stays fresh and original, leaving you pretty satisfied as the title splashes on the screen and Bon Iver's "The Wolves (Act I & II)" chimes in. The mood has been appropriately set and Cianfrance can add another modern masterpiece to his resume.

The Place Beyond the Pines is now playing in limited release in most major markets.

Rating: R

Runtime: 140 minutes

© 2018 by Scottie Knollin.