The Place Beyond the Pines

The Place Beyond the Pines ★★★★

People Magazine's two sexiest men of 2011, together at last.

It begins as Drive, turns into Prince of the City and then becomes a film all its own, and all the better for it: an epic tale of fathers and sons, heading inexorably for that place beyond the pines.

Ryan Gosling stars as a stunt biker turned bank robber, with Eva Mendes as his ex-girlfriend - and the mother of his child - and Bradley Cooper a dedicated cop who turns up on his tail. Their actions, whether pre-planned or decided in a split-second, echo down the decades, informing the lives of their children, one a gentle loner stoner (Dane DeHaan), the other probably the most irritating character ever in a film (Emory Cohen).

Cianfrance's follow-up to the remarkable Blue Valentine is a vividly-directed movie full of invigorating action sequences, moments of pathos, and surprises in both plotting and characterisation. Yes, it strikes false notes on occasion and threatens to get bogged down in genre rehashing at others, but it's cerebral, emotional and visceral in the tradition of something like Cimino's Thunderbolt and Lightfoot, and has a sense of ambition that keeps it afloat - as well as some of the best performances we'll see this year. Gosling is extremely good, if doing something we've seen rather too many times, Mendes gives arguably her first showing of note, and Cooper builds on the goodwill he began stockpiling in Silver Linings with an extremely unusual, effective performance (and by wearing a nice shellsuit). There are also impressive supporting turns from the red-eyed Dane DeHaan, and particularly Ben Mendelsohn, as Gosling's confidante, while Middle-Aged Spread's Ray Liotta appears to have turned into Ed Balls.

Though the narrative is beset with a certain bittiness, there are a great many fine scenes, and the film acquires a considerable cumulative power as the emotions rise in the final third, culminating in that stunning scene at the titular spot. Having said that, I do have a problem with the film's message. As a teenager, I would have found Gosling's stylish, self-destructive hero an admirable and exciting alternative to his son's strait-laced adoptive father, but now I just think he's a bit of a prick. The idea that we should side with someone just because they look really fucking cool smoking a cigarette is one that I've largely dispensed with, and the suggestion that someone's bond with their biological father effortlessly and unquestionably overrides one with their loving, adoptive dad is hideously offensive.

I do admire the film's sense of grandeur, though, its scope and scale, the energy of the action interludes, the artistry of much of the storytelling, and the intensity of the performances. And obviously the two really cute babies and the dancing dog.

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