Saturday, January 18, 2014

Penny Thoughts ‘14—The Place Beyond the Pines (2013) ***

R, 140 min.
Director: Derek Cianfrance
Writers: Derek Cianfrance, Ben Coccio, Darius Marder
Starring: Ryan Gosling, Bradley Cooper, Dane DeHaan, Emory Cohen, Eva Mendez, Mahershala Ali, Ben Mendelsohn, Olga Merediz, Gabe Fazio, Rose Byrne, Harris Yulin, Robert Clohessy, Bruce Greenwood, Ray Liotta

“The Place Beyond the Pines” was a fairly anticipated indie drama that reteamed writer/director Derek Cianfrance and actor Ryan Gosling for the second time since their Oscar nominated 2010 film “Blue Valentine”. It seemed to disappoint critics once it finally arrived in theaters. Perhaps this was because of the unique nature of the story, which spans a number of years and involves two generations of two families who seem fated to have a negative impact on each other.

The story is broken into three distinct acts. The first involves Gosling’s motorcycle circus performer who finds himself in his hometown and has a night with an old flame. A year later he’s back and discovers their night produced a baby. Determined to be a part of his son’s life, his quits his circus job and tries to provide for his son despite the fact that his efforts aren’t entirely desired. Because of a sketchy past, his ability to find a job that will provide enough money for him to support his child prove impossible, and he turns to crime.

The second act involves a cop, played by Bradley Cooper. After he is wounded in the line of duty, his future comes into question. A veteran cop, Ray Liotta as the type of guy you’ve come to expect from the creepy actor, decides to help the wounded cop out with some “recovered” funds. Cooper must decide whether to play the established game or try to roll his hero status in the favor of doing the right thing.

The third act occurs 15 years later. Each of these men have children the same age and those two boys seem to be on a collision course to resolve their father’s issues despite themselves. The Cooper character has used his success on the police force to enter politics and is in the midst of an election campaign when the two boys bring trouble back into the families lives. What happens is an example of how the sins of the fathers are revisited on their sons. Can theirs be an ending that doesn’t result in tragedy?

If anything, “The Place Beyond the Pines” never goes in the expected directions. The performances are powerful, including those of the two sons played by Dane DeHaan and Emory Cohen. If there is any dissatisfaction, it comes from the fact that the story doesn’t really end up being about what you might think it’s about in the beginning. In some ways, the plot plays like the trickery used by Hitchcock in “Psycho”, where the protagonist does not remain the same throughout the film. Despite the misdirection, I found the film to be quite satisfying in the way it surprised me. It isn’t the masterpiece that “Psycho” is, but it isn’t your typical crime drama.

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