“Who’s that guy?” asks Luke (Ryan Gosling). “Yours. You want to hold him?” says Romina (Eva Mendes). Luke’s a low-rent, carnival stunt motorcyclist; she’s a minimum-wage waitress with a year-old son, Jason. “I take care of Jason. That’s what I do. That’s my life,” she says. Luke wants to help take care of his son. “I want to do something with him for the first time,” he says, buying a treat for Romina and Jason, “so every time he has ice cream, he’ll remember my face.” That’s the setup for this touching, two-generational drama about fathers, sons, compassion, crime and bad decisions.
Ryan Gosling and Bradley Cooper lead a large cast in Derek Cianfrance’s ambitious film. Gosling is compelling as laconic Luke Glanton, motorcycle carnival stuntman whose one night in Schenectady with waitress Romina — well played by Eva Mendes — leads to son Jason, and to Luke’s passionate acceptance of paternal responsibilities, a decision that changes his life. Bradley Cooper is also convincing as conflicted lawyer/cop Avery Cross who, like Luke, adores his 1-year-old son. When Luke and Avery’s lives intersect, Avery, too, makes life-changing decisions. What those decisions are, and how they impact their sons’ lives is at the heart of the film.
Others in the talented, character-actor cast include excellent Ben Mendelsohn as mechanic/bank robber Robin, Mahershala Ali as Kofi, Romina’s dependable husband, Rose Byrne as Avery’s troubled wife, and Ray Liotta as Deluca, corrupt Schenectady cop. Emory Cohen and Dane DeHaan are outstanding as sons A.J. and Jason, the next generation.
“The Place Beyond the Pines” is serious, artful and moving drama, written and directed by Derek Cianfrance — with co-writers Ben Coccio and Darius Marder. The script is smart, telling a three-part, intersecting story of troubled sons, fathers and family secrets. From the opening tracking shot of Gosling’s Luke, walking through carnival crowds to his motorcycle stunt-riding tent, to the poignant, unsettling final frame, “Beyond the Pines” is dramatically performed, photographed and edited, with expressionistic sequences that reveal Luke and Jason’s desperation. It’s a thoughtful film about compassionate and ferocious characters who want to do right but make bad decisions. “If you ride like lightning, you’re going to crash like thunder,” says Mendelsohn as Luke’s friend Robin. He’s right.
Rated R for pervasive language, violence, drugs, alcohol and sex, “Beyond the Pines” runs 140 minutes. It’s rewarding adult fare with plenty to talk about afterward. So far, the year’s best drama.
“The Place beyond the Pines,”
Serious, artful, smart —
Fathers, sons, destiny,
Crime drama of the heart.