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The Place Beyond the Pines

Directed by Derek Cianfrance
Produced by Lynette Howell, Sidney Kimmel, Alex Orlovsky, and Jamie Patricof
Story by Derek Cianfrance and Ben Coccio Screenplay by Derek Cianfrance, Ben Coccio, and Darius Marder
With: Ryan Gosling, Bradley Cooper, Eva Mendes, Ray Liotta, Ben Mendelsohn, Rose Byrne, Mahershala Ali, Bruce Greenwood, Dane DeHaan, Emory Cohen, Harris Yulin, Robert Clohessy, and Olga Merediz
Cinematography: Sean Bobbitt
Editing: Jim Helton and Ron Patane
Music: Mike Patton
Runtime: 140 min
Release Date: 19 April 2013
Aspect Ratio: 2.35 : 1
Color: Color

I will point to The Place Beyond the Pines as another prime example of why I don’t watch trailers or read film reviews until after I’ve seen a movie. Like Ryan Gosling’s 2011 thriller Drive, this is an impressive film whose key pleasure lies in watching its narrative unfold--a pleasure that would be destroyed if you knew much about it before going to see it. At two hours and twenty minutes, Pines is a fairly rich, multiple-course cinematic meal, and much of the fun is derived from the slow process of digesting it bite by bite.

Gosling plays a motorcycle-riding drifter who travels the country performing in state fair stunt shows. But his stalled-out life changes when he learns that he fathered a child with a local gal the last time he passed through the town of Schenectady, New York.  What unfolds after that is a lengthy meditation on the consequences of action and inaction, the morality of living inside and outside of the law, the question of whether or not wild souls can be tamed, and how the sins of the father are visited on the son. Since Bradley Cooper and Ryan Gosling are given equal billing in this movie, it is not hard to figure out the significant turn the movie takes about a third of the way in (even if you don’t know anything about the film before seeing it). However, I was still caught off guard by the effectiveness of this story’s first major shift in narrative focus. For a film that starts out centered on quiet characters that communicate emotions and motivations through their eyes and behavior rather through their speech, it is quite an effective surprise when so many introspective, talkative characters that use words as weapons enter the story about 50 minutes in. In addition to another fine performance by Cooper, whose lead role in last year’s Silver Linings Playbook caused me to reassess his abilities, we get the chilling appearance of Ray Liotta in his scariest role since the great 1986 Jonathan Demme picture Something Wild.

Unfortunately, the narrative effectiveness of The Place Beyond the Pines diminishes as each subsequent chapter develops and deepens the film’s themes. The early scenes with Gosling’s character are pitch perfect, but the later scenes involving his son, played by Dane DeHaan, are a little tone deaf. However, one can’t help but admire the ambition of this movie, even if it does falter in its third act. Like his 2010 film Blue Valentine, which also starred Gosling, director Derek Cianfrance is more interested in character study than narrative cohesion. His confident linear take on the events of his tale is impressive and enabled me to overlook a few of the major coincidences required to make the film’s third act work. Some of the minor coincidences, however, are less forgivable. Although the weaknesses in the third-act prevent The Place Beyond the Pines from being an excellent film, it is certainly a film worth seeing, and more than once.