The Place Beyond the Pines
Opens Fri. April 5 at Harvard Exit. Rated R. 141 minutes.
Hey, girl. Your imaginary boyfriend, Ryan Gosling, got all muscled and tattooed for his new movie. He’s shirtless in the very first scene, an ultra-long take that leads from the dressing room at a two-bit traveling circus to a round cage full of snarling motorcycles. There, he does 360-degree orbits with his crew. His character, Luke, is a bad boy—just the way you like them. But then Luke discovers that a former one-night stand (Eva Mendes) has a toddler-aged son. Suddenly he turns paternal. He quits the circus, tells Romina he wants to settle down, to take care of her and the kid. Luke is now both the bad boy and the tender father—the perfect guy, except that he has no job skills but motorcycle riding and, taught by a new mentor, bank robbing.
Pines is the second film by Derek Cianfrance to star the Gos (after Blue Valentine), but it turns out to be a much larger and longer ensemble piece, one that eventually skips 15 years forward from its initial story. One of Luke’s stickups is interrupted by an idealistic, ambitious young cop with a law degree. His father a judge, Avery (Bradley Cooper) has his eye on politics; and self-described “psycho” Luke turns out to be a useful stepping stone to that career. Fifteen years later, however, Avery will have to reconsider the debt he owes Luke’s family.
Shot in upstate New York, Pines aims to be a small-town generational saga, in which the sins of fathers are settled by their sons. Cianfrance shows admirable seriousness about his characters, but only the early crime scenes have any spark to them. Mentored by a sleepy car mechanic (Australian actor Ben Mendelsohn, of Animal Kingdom), Luke loves the rush of terrifying bank tellers and blasting his bike through traffic, the cops on his tail. It’s better than any circus act—for us, too. The domestic scenes don’t play nearly as well; and the movie’s second two acts are essentially soap opera: bad marriages, dirty cops (Ray Liotta plays Ray Liotta), neglected wives, guilty politicians, errant teens, and teary confrontations. Cianfrance’s seriousness becomes smothering and his plotting claustrophobic, like the motorcycles racing inside the cage, never going anywhere.