In the opening story Ryan Gosling plays Luke, a carnival sideshow motorcycle daredevil, who discovers he has a son from a one-night stand. He wants to take responsibility but the child’s mother Romina (Eva Mendes) has moved on. In a desperate attempt to make money Luke teams with Robin (Ben Mendelsohn) to stage a daring series of bank robberies. “Not since Hall and Oates has there been such a team,” Luke jokes.
He’s desperate and desperate people do unpredictable things which puts him in the way of (star of story number two) rookie cop Avery Cross (Bradley Cooper), setting up a situation that will change both their lives and see the sins of the fathers affect their children’s lives as well (that’s story three).
“The Place Beyond the Pines” is a sprawling movie. At almost two-and-a-half hours it takes its time laying out the multi-generational tale. Director and co-writer Derek (“Blue Valentine”) Cianfrance has created a character study disguised as a crime drama in which two flawed men—Luke and Avery—act as mirror images of one another. One allows himself to be brought into corruption, another fights against it. In the end both pay a price for their actions.
Ripe with slow-paced tension the movie carefully details how one chance encounter can send ripples throughout a person’s life, with reverberations felt by all those around. Each character’s existence is interconnected to a degree, and while the set-up is a predictable crossing of the paths, the movie doesn’t paint by numbers.
There are surprises along the way—I’ve tried to be careful in my synopsis not to give away any spoilers—but it is the performances that sell the material.
Gosling is in full-blown brooding mode—like Marlon Brando and Steve McQueen had a baby—but brings enough charm to Luke to engender sympathy from the audience even as he is seduced by the dark side of life.
Bradley Cooper takes another few baby steps away from the role that made him famous, Phil the philandering dentist of the “Hangover” movies. He hands in a performance that becomes richer as the story becomes darker and more complex.
The strongest performances, however, belong to two supporting characters. As Robin, the mechanic who leads Luke down the wrong path, Ben Mendelsohn is memorable. Delivering lines like, “I never liked guns, they’re vulgar,” in a soft country twang he makes the most of his few scenes.
We meet Dane DeHaan’s character Jason in the final third of the film and his portrayal of a teenager searching for some way to full the void in his life—it would be too much of a spoiler to explain why—is heartfelt and heartbreaking.
“The Place Behind the Pines” is thematically rich with good performances and any movie that showcases Ray Liotta in corrupt cop mode is OK by me.