THE PLACE BEYOND THE PINES (2013)

THE PLACE BEYOND THE PINES
Movie Review by L.L. Soares

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After last year’s DRIVE, I’ve been looking forward to more dramas starring Ryan Gosling. He’s an actor I noticed fairly early on (in movies like 2001’s THE BELIEVER and 2006’s HALF NELSON) and it was pretty obvious then that he was going to be a big star. The fact that he continues to pick interesting projects is to his benefit. So when I heard this one was directed by Derek Cianfrance, who also made BLUE VALENTINE (2010), another interesting showcase for Gosling, I was doubly convinced this was going to be a good one.

THE PLACE BEYOND THE PINES takes place in Schenectady, New York (supposedly, Schenectady literally means “the place beyond the pines”), and it begins with Luke (Gosling), a stunt motorcyclist for a traveling carnival. The movie doesn’t really dwell much on what Luke does with that ‘cycle, but it’s actually kind of amazing. Three guys drive motorcycles into this big metal ball and then they drive inside of it, upside down and across, at high speeds, and somehow avoid colliding with and killing each other. I wanted to know more about this fascinating profession, but THE PLACE BEYOND THE PINES just uses it as an interesting bit of background, which I found disappointing (how do they do it?).

Luke finds out that a girl he had a fling with the last time he was in town, Romina (Eva Mendez), has given birth to his son, and that she is raising the baby with another man, Cofi (Mahershala Ali). Luke is upset when he finds out, and demands to be a part of the child’s life. He quits his job at the carnival, because he wants to stay in town, but he has trouble finding work, until he meets Robin (Ben Mendelsohn, who was also really good as Daggett in last year’s KILLING THEM SOFTLY), who has his own garage where he fixes cars (it’s actually the garage attached to his house!). Robin offers Luke a job as a mechanic, and a trailer in his backyard as a place to live.

Luke can barely support himself, but he’s intent on getting enough money to take care of his son, and he still believes he can get Romina to run away with him. Money seems to be his biggest roadblock in these plans. Robin tells him a way he can make more money—robbing banks. Turns out Robin used to do it himself in his youth, and he knows how to pull it off. The fact that Luke is an expert motorcyclist doesn’t hurt, either, since it gives him a great getaway vehicle.

This first storyline is pretty interesting, and reminded me of the strong character development that director Cianfrance gave us in BLUE VALENTINE. Unfortunately, this is just one of three stories in the film (which are kind of separate but interconnected at the same time). I would have really liked to see more of Luke and Romina, but we only get to focus on them for a short time.

The second storyline involves Avery (Bradley Cooper), a cop who has a run-in with Luke. The movie then follows him as he gets involved with a scam involving some corrupt cops (led by the always reliable Ray Liotta as Deluca). Should he blow the whistle on the corrupt cops, or should he just go with the flow? His conscience tells him one thing, but it’s made clear to him that cops who rat on their own may not have a long life expectancy.

The final storyline focuses on the sons of Avery and Luke, now in high school, and both of them are troubled. Avery’s son AJ (Emory Cohen) has become pretty volatile since his parents’ divorce, and trouble seems to follow him wherever he goes. Jason (Dane DeHaan), Luke’s son, seems more clear-headed at first, but he spirals down once he meets AJ (who transfers to his school) and starts getting involved in his shenanigans.

The acting is very good. Gosling is the obvious stand-out here, but Cooper is quite good as well (in a less compelling role). The boys who play their sons are good here, too. Cohen is spot on as a troubled kid who is constantly acting out, and DeHaan (who was so great in last year’s CHRONICLE) is riveting as a good kid gone bad. The support characters are good, too, including Eva Mendes (I wish she had had more screen time, she’s really good here), Rose Byrne as Avery’s wife (a less developed role) , and Mendelson.

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The script however, is not as strong as BLUE VALENTINE. In that previous movie, Cianfrance was able to show us the slow disintegration of a marriage and make it captivating. I really enjoyed that film a lot. In comparison, THE PLACE BEYOND THE PINES is good, but kind of a letdown. Part of the problem is the triptych sequence in which the stories are told. In BLUE VALENTINE, we got one storyline throughout, and it was made stronger as we examined the characters closely over time. In PLACE BEYOND THE PINES, we never get to spend enough time with any one set of characters, and it hurts in establishing that connection between movie and viewer.

The first part with Gosling is very good. The second part, with Cooper, felt less fresh to me. A good cop trying to stay clean among corrupt peers has been done hundreds of times before, and the movie doesn’t really give us anything new in that regard. Cooper does what he can with the role, but the truth is, Avery just is not as compelling as Luke, and the movie loses a little steam once Avery’s story begins. The final segment, involving the teenage sons of both men, is good, but once again, not as strong as the first part with Gosling. Over all, it’s an interesting movie, even if it is a little uneven at times, but it’s not as good as it could have been. Cianfrance has shown us what he’s capable of, and PINES just seems to fall a little short.

I liked it, and recommend it to fans of Gosling and Cooper, but it’s not either of their best work. I give THE PLACE BEYOND THE PINES three knives out of five.

© Copyright 2013 by L.L. Soares

LL Soares gives THE PLACE BEYOND THE PINES ~three knives.

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