“The Place Beyond the Pines” Movie Review

     Director Derek Cianfrance (“Blue Valentine”) has taken us here before.  To the doldrums of depression and all that is wrong with the world.  In “Blue Valentine” Cianfrance explored divorce and the way one couple dealt with the ramifications such a decision can have on those involved.  In his new film “The Place Beyond the Pines”, Cianfrance examines different, yet equally impacting scenarios and just like before, he uses Ryan Gosling to help tell his story.  The film is a grimy display of bad moods and impossible situations.  The “A list” cast of Gosling, Bradley Cooper, and Eva Mendes have never looked worse visually speaking.  Take one look at Gosling’s character, Luke,  covered up to the neck and face in prison tattoos and wearing the one shirt in his closet, a ragged stretched out white undershirt with holes everywhere and you know this guy has severe problems.  Luke is the catalyst for what drives the story and the look and feel of this character is all you need to know to conclude where the film will be taking you in the end.

     When we first meet Luke (Gosling), he is entering a circus tent where he joins two other riders in one of those death defying motorcycle stunts within a giant steel cage ball.  This is how he earns a living apparently, but he soon finds it’s not enough with the responsibilities he is about to inherit.  Luke tries to rekindle his relationship with his estranged girlfriend, Romina (a very tired and used looking Eva Mendes), only to find out he has fathered a child he didn’t know about.  Luke has a sudden moment of moral character and decides he needs to become a full time father, but soon learns Romina lives with another man who intends on caring for both her and her son.

     When Luke is turned away, he determines it’s due only to his lack of financial means and tries to figure out a away to take care of his son.  Now don’t take my words here in a literal sense.  This guy is a scumbag in every sense of the word and his solution to his demise only proves the point.  Luke hooks up with another loser who lives in the woods somewhere and together they hatch a plan to rob banks.  At first, they are wildly successful and since Luke was convinced money was the only thing missing between him and Romina, he decides to start forcing his way in.  This leads to a confrontation between him and Romina’s boyfriend, which leads to severe consequences for Luke and a protective order against him.

     With nothing else to do, Luke continues to rob banks but his rage leads to mistakes in what was a very clever method of operation.  This leads us into the film’s second act where we meet street cop Avery Cross (Bradley Cooper) for the first time.  Cross is a law school graduate who chose to become a cop rather than follow in his father’s foot steps who is a retired judge.  Cross is ambitious to say the least and Cianfrance puts him right in the path of Luke as he recklessly evades the town’s police force after a botched robbery.  For this, Cianfrance puts you right in the passenger seat of the patrol car and there you will stay for the entire sequence.  It is at this point in “The Place Beyond the Pines” where I felt Cianfrance was finally on to something, as the narrative abruptly shifts gears and becomes a story of the aftermath of an Officer involved shooting.  The first act was merely the backstory of the antagonist.  The rest of the film is dedicated to how one pull of the trigger can effect people in the present, as well as 15 years down the road.

     The third act is mainly comprised of the late teenage versions of Luke’s son Jason (Dane DeHaan) and Avery Cross’s son AJ (Emory Cohen) and their unlikely meeting when the later is forced to change schools when he goes to live with Cross rather than his mother who are now divorced.  Inevitably, Jason finds out who AJ’s dad is, as well as the details from that fateful day 15 years before.  Cianfrance’s story here might be a bit predictable, as you knew once the two kids hooked up, the truth was bound to come out.  For all the anger and violence in the situation, Jason seems to only want to learn more about his father and like most kids, just wants to know the truth, rather than the lies parents are famous for using with the excuse of “I was just trying to protect you.”  The performances by all involved have a very haunting aspect to them.  As expected, Gosling and Cooper both stand out.

     Cianfrance has without a doubt created his own unique visual style and it is on full display here.  He seems to prefer following his subjects into places with his camera.  We never really know what they are walking into until they get there, be it an elevator, a circus tent, or even a bank.  You don’t see the character’s facial expression as he is about to enter this place, but you can tell if there is a sense of urgency or not.  I felt more like a tag along within the scene, rather than having the usual multiple angle view.  This style works well with the material since it heightens the tension as these characters  move about.  We always seem to feel like they are entering a situation that will test them in some way.  I think the point Cianfrance is making with “The Place Beyond the Pines” is whatever the decision, there is always a consequence to someone you likely didn’t think of when you made it.  GRADE: B