Friday, April 5, 2013


The Place Beyond the Pines

The Place Beyond the Pines One of my top ten films in 2010, director Derek Cianfrance's brilliant sophomore feature "Blue Valentine," intimately tells a story about a husband and a wife, terrifically played by Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams, who fall in then fall out of love. Continuing to explore complex human relationships, Derek Cianfrance's third feature "The Place Beyond the Pines" (USA 2013 | 140 min.) is a much more ambitious triptych film about fathers and sons involving two intertwined families. Although the film is absorbing, it would have been better if it were made into three separate films like the "Godfather" trilogy, because the film's each chapter has its own story and protagonists and deserves to expand and have a life on its own.

The film's story takes place in Schenectady, New York, which gives the title of the film—Schenectady means "the place beyond the pines" in Mohawk. The movie opens with a close-up of the inked six packs of Luke (Ryan Gosling), a high-wire motorcycle stunt performer traveling with a circus from city to city. Now Luke is stopping by Schenectady with the circus. When he visits his ex-girlfriend Romina (Eva Mendes), he finds out that he has a new born son, Jason.

Knowing that he has a son dramatically changes Luke's perspective about how he wants to live his life. He decides to stay and to take responsibility of raising Jason. But it isn't an easy task for Luke to take on, so when a seasoned mechanics Robin (Ben Mendelsohn, as terrific as in "Animal Kingdom") offers a chance for easy cash, Luke jumps right in.

Ryan Gosling and Eva Mendes stars The Place Beyond the Pines. Photo: Atsushi Nishijima

That leads Luke's path crossed with a straight shooter cop Avery Cross (Bradley Cooper), who also has a new born son named AJ. Then the film abruptly proceeds to its second chapter, which is a typical episode of cop drama. While Avery struggles with his personal baggage, he leads on a crusade against the police corruption led by detective Deluca (Ray Liotta, who else?).

After Avery steps up the ladder and becomes the District Attorney, the film shifts its focus once again to the next generation—Avery's son AJ (Emory Cohen) and Luke's son Jason (Dane DeHaan), who are teenagers by now. How they inherit and carry on their father's legacy becomes the final chapter of the film.

Director Derek Cianfrance confidently and unusually unfolds the story using a straightforward linear structure, and clearly divides the film into three chapters. That makes the film looked very much like a "buy one get two free" deal, especially when the first chapter about Luke and Romania is the most endearing and engrossing story among the three. Ryan Gosling comfortably slips into Luke's character, and rides his motorcycle as impressive as he drives a car in "Drive." Although Eva Mendes is solid playing Romina, it would have been better to see Michelle Williams in that role and to reunite with Ryan Gosling.

In comparison, Avery is a less interesting character, despite a fine performance by Bradley Cooper. The entire second chapter seems a recycled episode from a good cop vs. bad cop movie.

It seems a little circumstantial for AJ and Jason to cross each other's path as teenagers. But perhaps that's their fate, and they are designated to shoulder the heavy burden from the older generation. Plus, their encounter is crucial to chain the three chapters together and for the movie to make its point.

In spite of the ambition for the triptych to play out in the gravity of an epic Greek tragedy, by the end of the film, it looks more like an admirable architect creation with excellent details, but built on a shaky foundation.

"The Place Beyond the Pines," a Focus Features release, opens on Friday, April 5, 2013 at Bay Area theaters.

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