3.5 / 5
In the first shot of The Place Beyond the Pines, stunt motorcyclist Luke Glanton (Ryan Gosling) bursts out of his trailer in a traveling carnival that's passing through Schenectady, New York. He's a bleached-blond raw nerve who fidgets and smokes and locks eyes with a sultry woman in the crowd.
They have a past together, and it's central to the ambitious, three-part story in a sprawling, ambitious movie that gets off to such a roaring start, overstuffed with adrenaline and emotion, from which it never quite recovers.
The three sections of The Place Beyond the Pines are all connected to these two people and their deep, genuine love and passion for each other. Luke and the woman, Romina (Eva Mendes), have a son -- one he didn't know existed. Hurt, curious, scared and proud, Luke decides in a flash that he's going to be part of the boy's life, no matter what.
Luke will do whatever it takes to give the little boy the things he didn't have, including a father's love, even if it means resorting to crime. He doesn't think about the consequences of that decision, or of pretty much any decision -- so he can't know just how profound and long-lasting they'll be.
A botched robbery leads to an armed confrontation with a local cop (Bradley Cooper), who in turn makes his own fateful, split-second decision. It's another momentary incident with ripples that will be felt across generations.
The sins of the fathers weigh heavily on the minds of director Derek Cianfrance and his co-screenwriters Ben Coccio and Darius Marder. The Place Beyond the Pines takes place over more than a decade and a half, considering the consequences of actions that happen in the blink of an eye. It's a more grounded, less chaotic version, in a sense, of Paul Thomas Anderson's unforgettable Magnolia, a big, messy movie drunk on possibility.
The Place Beyond the Pines is more mannered for much of its running time, much more circumspect and sometimes too mannered. Though violence always simmers under the surface, the movie never quite feels as dangerous or unpredictable as in its first hour. Gosling is white-hot, his Luke so tortured by his own limitations that, unbound, anything is possible.
By comparison, Cooper is buttoned-down and safe. That's not to say his story isn't compelling -- it is, but in a completely different way, and after the hand-drawn tattoos and fiery temper of Gosling, Cooper comes across as comparatively bland.
The final third stumbles as it tries to draw the first two parts together to make a grand statement about the way crime and violence perpetuate themselves. It would be unfair to reveal up front just who they play, but Dane DeHaan and Emory Cohen, the two young actors who spring to the forefront here are in over their heads. Following in the footsteps of first Gosling then Cooper, they simply aren't commanding presences, and the movie suffers for its strict adherence to its structure. (You keep waiting for a Gosling flashback that never comes.)
Other actors, particularly Mendes and the stunningly creepy Ben Mendelsohn, are well-used, while others like Bruce Greenwood and especially Ray Liotta -- playing exactly the kind of role you expect Ray Liotta to play -- seem out of place.
The overall result is a curious one: Gosling's Luke is a character whose outsized personality is intended to be felt throughout the story, even when he's not on screen. Gosling delivers a towering, dazzling performance. The only problem is, it's too towering. The Place Beyond the Pines is one-third stunning and brilliant, two-thirds very good; but compared with stunning and brilliant, very good almost doesn't seem enough.
Viewed April 13, 2013 -- Arclight Hollywood