MRR Review: "The Place Beyond the Pines"

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Ryan Gosling, Bradley Cooper and Eva Mendes star in this 2013 film about a motorcycle stunt rider who considers committing a crime in order to provide for his wife and child.
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MRR Review: "The Place Beyond the Pines"

-- Rating: R for language throughout, some violence, teen drug and alcohol use, and a sexual reference
Length: 140 minutes
Release Date: Mar. 29, 2013
Directed by: Derek Cianfrance
Genre: Crime Drama

Director Derek Cianfrance also wrote the screenplay for the 2013 crime drama "The Place Beyond the Pines" along with Darius Marder and Ben Coccio. The stars include Bradley Cooper, Ryan Gosling, Ray Liotta, and Eva Mendes. Cianfance also directed Gosling in the 2010 romantic drama "Blue Valentine." The title of this film is a loose translation of Schenectady, which is the primary setting in the film.

"The Place Beyond the Pines" is essentially a trilogy that uses a single violent event to unite the three stories. The first story centers on Luke (Ryan Gosling), a motorcycle stunt rider at a carnival. Luke meets Romina (Eva Mendes) one night for the second time and learns that his first encounter with Romina produced a son named Jason. Luke wishes to be a good father, but Romina is already involved with Kofi (Mahershala Ali), who appears to be a better prospect than Luke. Luke gets a more traditional job as a mechanic from Robin (Ben Mendelsohn), who runs a garage off the books. Robin then proposes that the two men begin robbing banks, which Luke accepts in the hopes that the money will impress Romina.

The second story in "The Place Beyond the Pines" focuses on Avery (Bradley Cooper), who crosses paths with Luke during the course of a bank robbery. The encounter goes badly for Luke, but Avery is hailed as a hero. Avery becomes defined by this single event as he faces temptation from corrupt detective Deluca (Ray Liotta) and his father (Harris Yulin). Avery's father offers to help him while only seeing Avery's failings. This portion of the film shows the similarity between the lives of Luke and Avery. Both men have young sons, and they have both disappointed many people. The primary differences between the two men are external factors such as education, opportunity, and wealth. The film repeatedly returns to this theme.

The third part of "The Place Beyond the Pines" begins fifteen years after the previous story. Avery has a son AJ (Emory Cohen) who is now a spoiled teenager. Luke's son (Dane DeHaan) is living very simply with his mother, who has become worn down by life. Jason has no expectations about his life, unlike AJ who has a privileged lifestyle. The lives of these two sons also cross like those of their fathers, altering their lives in a complicated manner.

Cianfrance continues his penchant for making films about bad breaks. His previous film "Blue Valentine" was about financial problems and social differences that ended a marriage. Gosling made a standout performance in that film as a high school dropout whom his wife outgrows. The trigger for change in "The Place Beyond the Pines" is violence, which Cianfrance uses to show how financial problems, guilt and regret produce a ripple effect that affects many lives. The stories in this film are intimate yet still sweeping in their scope.

Cianfrance shows his idiosyncratic approach to filmmaking with his tendency to portray financially deprived people living desperate lives, a level of society that is often overlooked by modern filmmakers. The effect of a lack or abundance of ambition is also a regular feature of Cianfrance's work. Cianfrance also shows his ability to select the right time to make understatements during extreme situations. Principal actors Gosling, DeHaan and Mendes are particularly effective at underplaying their roles. Gosling combines an easy smile with a sense of danger that makes his role more interesting than the stereotypical lowlife thug. Cooper's portrayal of an unbalanced man in his previous film "Silver Linings Playbook" earned him an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor. He plays a similar role in "The Place Beyond the Pines" that seems to provide more angst than needed for the part of Avery.

Cinematographer Sean Bobbit has a history of working on films with a dark story. He was also the cinematographer on the 2011 drama "Shame" and the drama "Twelve Years a Slave," which is scheduled for release in late 2013. Bobbit uses gritty details to show how circumstances can overtake the lives of ordinary people. This includes houses with yards that are overcome with weeds, metal doors with rusty hinges and dogs underfoot. Bobbit contrasts these homes with house that have perfectly manicured lawns and well-maintained pools.

"The Place Beyond the Pines" is less refined than "Blue Valentine" due to its rough edges between the three stories. However, it provides an intimate and moving look at people who live simple lives and endure frequent heartbreak.

Rating 4 out of 5