Film Review: THE PLACE BEYOND THE PINES

Directed by Derek Cianfrance
Written by Derek Cianfrance, Ben Coccio, Darius Marder
Starring: Ryan Gosling, Eva Mendes, Bradley Cooper, Rose Byrne, Harris Yulin, Ray Liotta, Dane De Haan, Emory Cohen

Cianfrance follows up his terrific film BLUE VALENTINE with THE PLACE BEYOND THE PINES. I hate the title (what does it tell us?), but there’s a lot to like in the film. You can pretty much divide the movie into thirds with each third being somewhat weaker, as well as somewhat different in tone, than the previous third. It’s a story about fathers and sons, sins of the past, revenge, reverberations, and the idea that what goes around comes around. Perhaps they are all the same thing.

In Part One, Gosling plays a stunt driver in a carnival who finds out he has fathered a child. He can’t let go of the idea, he can make it work despite the fact that the woman has moved on. Reminiscent of the character Gosling played in BLUE VALENTINE, we feel sorry and yet are frustrated by the mistakes he makes. Each error builds on the last one until things spin out of control. This is a strong beginning with Gosling and Mendes turning in fine performances. They both feel right in their roles, in that town.

Part Two’s tone changes as a police officer (Cooper) becomes involved in Gosling’s flight from a crime. In this third, we are too often reminded of behavior we saw in THE SHIELD. Our sympathy for the cop begins to dissipate as he turns his heroism into something else, edged on by his politician father (Yulin.) Cooper is fine, but the story loses some of the complex tone and texture of the Gosling narrative.

The final part suffers from just how much narrative has preceded it. The two young actors don’t quite bring their characters to life (De Haan and Cohen) and their behavior seems less driven by circumstance and character than from the needs of the plot to bring things full circle. Cianfrance seems to want a big “AHA” moment, a scene when we see clearly how actions in the past reverberate in the present. We got it already.

This is a good film that could have been a great one. Recommended.

Patti