Ryan Gosling and director Derek Cianfrance reunite after the emotionally bruising Blue Valentine for The Place Beyond The Pines, a gripping, well-made (if slightly ponderous) crime thriller.
Luke Glanton (Gosling) is a motorbike stunt rider working for a travelling fair. When back in New York, he finds his ex-lover Romina (Eva Mendes) has had a child without telling him. Wanting to provide for his new son, Luke starts pulling off bank robberies. One robbery brings Luke up against policeman Avery Cross (Bradley Cooper), an encounter that has a lasting impact on both their lives- and the lives of their sons fifteen years later.
The film can be roughly broken into three sections- Luke's story, Avery's story and their sons' stories. Gosling is front and centre for the first section, a brooding presence easily bringing to mind his performance in Nicolas Winding Refn's Drive. The Drive comparisons are apt- a laconic stunt driver involved in crime- but luckily there's more to the role (and Gosling's performance) than a mere facsimile. He's a man wanting to do right but going about it in the wrong way. The heists and subsequent chases are thrilling and giddily shot but there is a tendency towards ponderous shots of Gosling looking enigmatically into the distance.
Bradley Cooper proves his dramatic performance in Silver Linings Playbook was not a one-off, with a decent and nuanced turn as an idealistic rookie given a crash course in the murkier side of police life. For me, this second section is the most successful part of the film. It's certainly the best written section, transcending what could be a stock cliched situation (hero cop tempted by the dark side) to something deeper. Cooper's performance is excellent and his clashes with fellow police officers (including Bruce Greenwood and the brilliantly psychotic Ray Liotta) really spark.
The final section- featuring Luke's now teenage son Jason (Dane DeHaan) and Avery's son AJ (Emory Cohen)- is perhaps the least successful section for me. DeHaan's performance as the conflicted Jason is powerful but I really wasn't sold on AJ. I don't know whether it's because of Cohen's performance or if because the character of AJ, as written, comes across as a spoilt entitled brat. This part of the story has a lot of potential for some real high drama- Jason and AJ's nascent friendship is bound to be ripped apart, due to the revelations of the past- but what should be a gutwrench is more of a damp squib. However, there's a powerful stand-off between Cooper and DeHaan to redeem it.
This is a real Boys Own adventure with the female characters being rather shortchanged- a shame, considering Blue Valentine had such a strongly characterised female lead. Mendes is good with what she's given but it's a slightly thankless role, whilst Rose Byrne doesn't get much to do as Avery's wife Jennifer. Because the thrust of the story is very much 'the sins of the father being visited on the son', the female characters are very incidental.
There's a few niggles that prevent The Place Beyond The Pines from being truly great for me. Nonetheless, it's still an eminently watchable film, if only for Bradley Cooper's tremendous performance in the second act.
Rating: 4 out of 5