The Place Beyond the Pines

The Place Beyond the Pines ★★★★

Have you ever made a decision before in your life, where you stopped and wondered who it would affect in the process? Ever think about that same decision, wondering if it would come back to bite you somewhere down the road ... maybe a year, five years, or 20 years down the line? "THE PLACE BEYOND THE PINES" will certainly get you thinking about that. The decisions we make in life not only affect ourselves, but the people around us, and maybe even people we have never met before ... and whose to know if those decisions will come back to haunt us in the future. "THE PLACE BEYOND THE PINES" is that film that will get your brain cooking about that very scenario. It's a film that perfectly exemplifies the "ripple effect" or "chain reaction" among three completely different characters, connected somehow within three stories.

"THE PLACE BEYOND THE PINES", directed by Derek Cianfrance (2010's "BLUE VALENTINE"), is an engaging, moving, suspenseful drama with a superb cast, hypnotic score, and an overall story executed brilliantly that will keep your eyes locked on the screen. The film plays out as a anthology film, revolving around bad decisions made by "not so bad" people, and how those bad decisions not only affect the perpetrators of the deed, but their families and the families around him. It's an "experiment film" about how the things you do ripple through your genealogy. "THE PLACE BEYOND THE PINES" is a fantastic film brought to life by an engaging story with a satisfying payoff ... a colorful cast ... a fantastic "up-and-coming" director ... and ultimately a film that will be talked about by years end. For me thus far ... "THE PLACE BEYOND THE PINES" is at the top of the list in 2013 films, and it might even stay there for a while.

A stunt motorcyclist named Luke Glanton (Ryan Gosling) returns home while working for the circus, where he encounters his former fling named Romina (Eve Mendes). He finds out she has had his child since he was last in town. Soon after, he meets a auto-body shop owner named Robin (Ben Mendelsohn), who at one point was a former bank robber. He soon realizes Luke's skills on a motorcycle, and the two of them begin robbing local banks together in order for Luke to provide for his son.

A rookie cop named Avery Cross (Bradley Cooper) becomes a hero when he stops one of Luke's robberies, but soon learns of the extreme corruption that infests his local police force, which includes one of his partners named Deluca (Ray Loitta) ... so he decides to reveal it to the press, fully unaware of the ramifications that might come with it.

Years later ... two teenage boys named Jason (Dane Dehaan) and A.J. (Emory Cohen) who appear to meet by destiny (or bad luck), become close friends, unaware of the past history that surrounds them both, which could ultimately destroy their lives and the lives of their loved ones.

A motorcyclist stuntman becomes a bank robber to support his son ... a police officer must decide between corruption and his own conscience ... a high schooler in search of the truth about his father must confront his own legacy ... to say any more about the plot in "THE PLACE BEYOND THE PINES" would be absolute criminal. Fully explaining the plot is a little difficult because there isn't one plot ... but THREE ... and their relation to one another is the key to the involving mystery behind "PINES". It's the perfect "three-act" or "three-tiered" film that organically goes from one character's story, then shifts to another, then shifts to the final story ... in this case - Gosling's (Luke's) story to Cooper's (Cross's) story to DeHaan's (Jason's) story.

Director Derek Cianfrance's technique to tell three separate stories is impressive and straight-forward ... it's done linearly with no flashbacks or "cross-cutting". Its a story that literally "passes the baton" to another when one character's story is finished, just as the pain and regret of impulsive, foolish choices are passed down from father to son. It may upset the viewer who is looking forward to a more straight-forward crime thriller (which the trailers are certainly showing), but Cianfrance is clear about his style and his saga here with "PINES". With his talented cast giving their best, he crafts a multi-layerd film that never feels rushed, congested, gimmicky, or pretentious.

Production wise, the film looks great as well … one of the big highlights (cinematography wise in the “first-act”) are “non-edited” motorcycle chases done in one continuous shot as Gosling tries to get away from the police. It’s awesome, and executed extremely well as you watch from the point of view as if you’re riding shotgun in the police cruiser. The score is well done and perfectly complements the drastic shift in tones from act to act … sounds the best in the “third act” to me.

Acting is what really works in this film. Ryan Gosling is turning into the king of “lazy-eyed coolness”, as he brings that like he always has with his role here as “Luke Glanton”. He’s not the badass he played in 2011’s “DRIVE”, or the political underling in 2011’s “THE IDES OF MARCH” … but rather a man in “desperation mode”, willing to do whatever it takes to be there for his son. While he turns to crime, he is easily the character you sympathize the most with. The “first act” with him, is really the strongest of the entire film, and the film does lose a bit of intensity when Gosling is no longer in the picture.

Oscar-nominated actor Bradley Cooper (2012’s “SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK”) plays rookie cop “Avery Cross” … a man who invests his time and energy in exposing the faults and misdeeds of others, even as he approaches a good life built on a lie, even if he thinks he knows that lie will come back to bite him at some point … a man that struggles more and more with his guilt with each passing day, and overall unsure how to approach it. Cooper plays the “moral dilemma” of the story, and in a way, has the most important “character arc” of the story.

People should also take notice of the complete “polar opposites” Gosling and Cooper play - one being a criminal wanting to be there with his son at all costs, while the other is a officer of the law who only distances himself away from his own.

However, to me … the show was stolen in the “third-act” by the young “up-and-coming” star of Dane DeHaan. DeHaan (who resides from Allentown, Pennsylvania near my neck of the woods) is quickly turning into a fabulous young talent after exploding onto the scene last year (2012’s “CHRONICLE”, “LAWLESS”, and “LINCOLN”). Here he plays and perfectly embodies the troubled young teenager (just like he did in “CHRONICLE”) of “Jason”, who is desperate to seek nothing but the truth about his past. He stands out as a confused kid who isn’t sure if he belongs on the wrong path or not. Here in “PINES”, his star power is brought to a new level, and to me, the kid seems like the real deal.

Supporting cast was solid all around … the best coming from Eva Mendes as “Romina”. She’s stripped down from her regular sex appeal in most roles, and given a role where she is confronted by agony and heartbreak as the film continues on. Ray Liotta has a commendable role as the crooked cop "Deluca", but it seems more of a “typecast” for Ray, and his portion of the story with Cooper in the “second act” does seem a little bit shoehorned in. Ben Mendelsohn, Bruce Greenwood, and the other troubled young teenager played by Emory Cohen also have very commendable performances in their respective roles.

In creating this interlocking character piece, Cianfrance doesn’t rely entirely on dialogue and the caliber of his fully capable cast … but instead, creating an hypnotic atmosphere backed by a truly memorable score as I previously mentioned. The score by Mike Patton really captures the mood at the appropriate times, especially near the end and it’s final scene. It’s touching and sad all at the same time, and I surely won’t spoil it here for those who want to see this film.

Granted we are only in April of 2013, but truth be told … “THE PLACE BEYOND THE PINES” is easily the best film of the year thus far, and may remain the best film for a while. The sins of the father shall be visited upon the son … it’s a timeworn notion, both in real life and in film life, and it’s beautifully explored here in “THE PLACE BEYOND THE PINES”. It’s a got an all-star cast that delivers on every front … an engaging, thought-provoking, interlocking story filled with heart that will keep you intrigued … excellent production values … fine camera work … all that adds up to a very fine, exceptional film that director Derek Cianfrance can certainly be proud of. “THE PLACE BEYOND THE PINES” is dramatic storytelling at its finest, and hopefully overall, it’s a film that won’t be forgotten any time soon.

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