Monday, April 22, 2013

'The Place Beyond the Pines': Magnetism and Daddy Issues

David Cianfrance's The Place Beyond the Pines opens with the back of Ryan Gosling's head.  We know it's him because we recognize this shot from the trailer.  Gosling is one of the main reasons (if not the reason) you decided to buy a ticket to this moody family drama, so you probably even know what the back of his head looks like. 

Gosling plays Luke Glanton, a traveling motorcycle stuntman who learns that he has a son and decides to stay put in Schenectady, New York even though the mother, Romina (Eva Mendes), is in a relationship with another man.  Luke starts working for Robin (Ben Mendelsohn), an auto body shop owner who doesn't supply Luke with much work, but he does give him an idea.  Robin claims that he robbed several banks years ago, and the pair devise a plan for Luke to be able to provide for his son. 

The story shifts, and we are introduced to rookie cop Avery Cross (Bradley Cooper).  As Luke continues to wrecklessly rob banks, Avery and Luke cross paths.  Avery and Luke both have sons to provide for, and The Place Beyond the Pines is a somber tale of how the actions of one can lead to the destruction of another.  It is a very sad tale of fathers and sons and how a man can shape his son's future without ever realizing it.

Both Cooper and Gosling are very good, but this film belongs to Gosling.  He is so magnetic and charismatic that you really feel his absence when he's not on screen.  The middle act, the one that focuses primarily on Avery, lacks the weight and excitement that the first introduced so heavily.  When we first start to follow Cooper's character, the director follows the back of his head like he did with Luke at the very beginning, and I never felt the sense to figure out where he was going.  Gosling's magnetism alone is worth seeing the movie for. 

The structure of the movie as a whole is bothersome.  The chapters could stand alone, and it doesn't feel entirely cohesive.  The third act is the weakest part, and it should be the strongest.  Jason (Emory Cohen from NBC's Smash) and AJ (Dane DeHaan, Chronicle) are high school students who have the daunting task of letting the past catch up with them.  Cohen's acting is a bit laughable here.  I don't know if he saw A Streetcar Named Desire one too many times and thinks his mumbly tough-guy characterization is stellar, but I couldn't take him seriously.  DeHaan, on the other hand, is great.  His moody teenager is so sad and fiery that you are just waiting for him to explode. 

The rest of the cast is pretty top-notch.  Gosling and Cooper are strong, and Eva Mendes continues to show more vulnerability as a mother who has lost ways of connecting with her son.  Ray Liotta and Bruce Greenwood are also good in supporting roles. 

The Place Beyond the Pines is moody and tragic, but too restrained.  Unfortunately, Cianfrance keeps the stories so separated that they feel stagnant and unbalanced.  This is a story about the ties of men and their sons.  Let the movie bleed.  

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