Call it fate, destiny or karma, but “The Place Beyond the Pines” is where two roads converge into one.
Luke Glanton (Ryan Gosling) is a motorcycle stuntman at a traveling fair when he finds out his fling Romina (Eva Mendes) has a 1-year-old boy. Luke quits his job and stays in Schenectady, N.Y., to support them. However, with work experience such as driving motorcycles fast, his income is limited. After Luke meets Robin (Ben Mendelsohn), the two begin a bank-robbing spree. Avery Cross (Bradley Cooper) is the cop that eventually catches Luke, known as “the motorcycle bandit.”
Derek Cianfrance, writer and director of “Blue Valentine,” creates another drama that flits between the past and present. However, unlike “Blue Valentine,” which chronicles the failing marriage of a young couple through flashbacks, “The Place Beyond the Pines” is told chronologically.
The first third of the 140-minute film follows Luke and his motorcycle. The roar of his bike and the scream of the carnival crowd are deafening. While Gosling’s stunt double, Rick Miller, performs the most dangerous stunts, such as driving a motorcycle into a spherical cage or driving the bike through the woods and a cemetery, Gosling does some stunt work, such as driving a motorcycle into a busy intersection.
Cinematographer Sean Bobbitt specializes in producing long one-take shots that follow the character. Because of this, Gosling and Miller did not have time to switch positions in that particular scene. In the most impressive one-take sequence, Bobbitt’s camera follows Luke as he gets dressed, walks into the carnival tent and then gets on a bike. The camera then follows the bike into the cage.
This isn’t the first time Gosling played a stunt performer — he was the driver in Nicolas Winding Refn’s “Drive” two years ago. Compared to his performance in “Drive,” Gosling is much more vocal, if not violent. He’s desperate as he screams obscenities at the bank tellers shoving money into his backpack. In another scene, he punches a man in the eye, drawing crimson blood. While Gosling, the face of the “Hey Girl” memes, is personable, his character tiptoes along the precarious line of good and bad.
For Cooper, this isn’t his first time behind the wheels of a police vehicle. He drove one over Las Vegas sidewalks for a brief stint in “Hangover.” Now playing an actual cop, Cooper drives his police car through the cemetery with the director of photography is sitting in the passenger’s seat, filming Cooper and the motorcycle he’s chasing.
While Cianfrance creates an engaging drama, “The Place Beyond the Pines” may be too ambitious. The film contains three stories: the stuntman-turned-bank-robber, the cop who pursued him, and their sons, which could easily have been three separate movies or episodes. While each storyline is well crafted, the film feels lengthy, running almost two and a half hours.
“The Place Beyond the Pines” may contain plenty of exposition, but Gosling and Cooper’s performances support the film’s long, convoluted script. Cooper, who has a similar height and build to Gosling, is a believable casting choice to play the heroic cop in a corrupt frat-boy police force. Moreover, his and Gosling’s similar appearances allow Cianfrance to create more efficient parallels. Both Luke and Avery have 1-year-old sons, both are placed in morally ambiguous situations and both characters’ similar looks highlight these plot points, creating a sense of closure.
While “The Place Beyond the Pines” ties three stories together through a central point in time, it’s an ugly and messy story, filled with crime, corruption and karma.
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