MOVIE REVIEW: ‘The Place Beyond the Pines’

Drama ventures into dark family matters

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It’s rare to see a filmmaker grow by leaps and bounds in the mere two years between the release of a film and its follow-up. But writer-director Derek Cianfrance has pulled off one of the most impressive artistic growth spurts imaginable with his new release, the intimate yet epic “The Place Beyond the Pines.”

“Pines” comes on the heels of his debut feature “Blue Valentine,” a film which offered one of the most horrifying portraits of marriage ever to emerge from Hollywood. That movie might have garnered Michelle Williams a best actress Oscar nomination and pulled in nearly $10 million as an art house hit, but it nonetheless stands out as a prime example of Hollywood’s war on marriage.

Meanwhile, “Pines” stuns by offering a powerful portrait of forgiveness and redemption, even as it also mines dark familial subject matter. Under the guise of an expertly acted and beautifully shot modern noir, it explores the timeless themes of whether children can find their own path in life while having to overcome the devastating sins of their fathers, and how to find the strength to forgive and truly forget and move forward in life.

“Pines” stars Ryan Gosling as Luke, an uneducated traveling motorcycle stuntman who runs into Romina (Eva Mendes), a former one-night stand who had a child by him without his knowledge. He wants to drop his career and help raise his son, Jason, but doesn’t have the skills to make a normal living.

It is then that a friend convinces Luke to be the getaway driver in a series of bank robberies, the idea being that his superior driving skills and amazing speed will elude cops easily. But when Luke’s partner decides to stop robbing, Luke makes one more ill-advised holdup and winds up getting shot dead after a botched escape attempt.

The policeman who shot him is Avery (Bradley Cooper), who accidentally shot first when he saw Luke’s gun and now has to live with the guilt of killing a man improperly and leaving the man’s son fatherless. His supervisors help him cover up his error, and he grows into being a charismatic district attorney, with all seeming right in the world until the day years later when his teenage son A.J. and his best friend, who happens to be Luke’s now-teen son (Dane DeHaan), learn the secrets of their fathers’ interaction. How will the sons handle the sins of their fathers?

All the actors involved offer outstanding performances fully worthy of the excellent screenplay, co-written by Mr. Cianfrance, along with Ben Coccio and Darius Marder. That script uses a unique structure, for while the movie’s ads and posters make “Place” look like an ongoing showdown between Mr. Gosling and Mr. Cooper, they only share the screen for seconds as the film’s focus transitions, with that one stunning gunshot, from Luke’s story to becoming Avery’s tale. And then it dares to shift focus again, leaping forward into their sons’ teen years.

With cinematographer Sean Bobbitt capturing the mystic majesty of upstate New York’s gorgeous forests and Mike Patton’s score hooking viewers in to the film’s brooding yet hopeful tone, “Pines” is a film that deserves to be remembered at awards season.

★★★★

TITLE: “The Place Beyond the Pines”

CREDITS: Directed by Derek Cianfrance; written by Mr. Cianfrance, Ben Coccio and Darius Marder

RATING: R for language throughout, some violence, teen drug and alcohol use, and a sexual reference

RUNNING TIME: 140 minutes

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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