Movies You Might Have Missed
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Title: The Place Beyond the Pines (2012)
Directed by: Derek Cianfrance
Starring: Ryan Gosling, Bradley Cooper, Eva Mendes
Available on Netflix, Apple iTunes, Google Play Videos, PlayStation
Brief Synopsis: In upstate New York, two men (Ryan Gosling, Bradley Cooper), and later, their sons (Dane DeHaan, Emory Cohen) must deal with the unforeseen consequences of their actions.
Aggregate Scores: IMDb - 7.3 Rotten Tomatoes - 80% Ebert & Roeper 4/4
Review: "If you ride like lightning, you're gonna crash like thunder" warns the prophetic Robin (Ben Mendelsohn) to his ambitious partner, Luke (a stoic, heavily tattooed Ryan Gosling). Intentional or not, this line perfectly encapsulates Derek Cianfrance's follow-up to his indie hit Blue Valentine (2010).
From the ambitious beginning (a near 3-minute long take following Gosling into a motorcycle stunt cage) to the credit scene drowned by a crooning Bon Iver, The Place Beyond the Pines rides that thin line, frequently flirting with disaster, just like Luke's daredevil carnival act.
When Luke realizes that he has sired a son with Romina (real life partner, Eva Mendes), he attempts to make things right. Unfortunately, for a stunt bike rider, supporting more than himself turns out to be an impossible financial burden. This causes Luke to begin robbing banks, a decision that puts him on a collision course with rookie cop, Avery Cross (Bradley Cooper). The resulting encounter has a multi-generational impact.
What makes this film such a hidden gem is its refusal to lead the audience. Every character, whether Luke, Cross, or their children (played by Dane DeHaan and Emory Cohen) makes their own decisions, and ultimately, their own mistakes, based off what they believe is right. TPBtP wonderfully plays with the notion of nature vs. nurture, giving rationale to even the most destructive of decisions.
Due out in 2012, it was consistently pushed back by distributors. Marketed as an action drama starring two A-list leads, in truth, Gosling and Cooper are together for less than a minute. Instead of an action fuelled thriller, the movie is a deep, introspective look into the importance of father-figures, and the question of destiny, told over three generations. That is a tall order for a TV series, much less a 2-hour film, but that is exactly what is achieved.
At two hours and 20 minutes, TPBtP twists and turns through action, drama, and even characters. Inevitably, this will divide the average viewer. Some will say it is a brilliant multi-generational character study, akin to The Godfather. Others will say it flirts with pretension. While it would be easy to cynically brush off this herculean effort, it would be misguided, as TPBtP creates a world of real, meaningful characters, whose (often misguided) choices affect not only themselves, but those closest to them. Whatever the sentiment, it's clear this film wears its heart on its sleeve, like another one of Luke's tattoos. It is this choice that makes this film worth a second chance.