The Place Beyond the Pines

I adore Ryan Gosling.  I think his choices are shrewd and artful, and the camera loves him.  I can rattle off several of his movies that I think are truly superb, and now you can add one more to the list. In The Place Beyond the Pines, Gosling gives a stirring performance that permeates quietly before a shocking culmination.

The movie begins with an introduction to Luke Glanton (Gosling, Gangster Squad), a motorcycle stunt rider who performs in a traveling carnival.  Director Derek Cianfrance (Blue Valentine) immediately drew the audience in with a taut opening sequence, as Luke performs a dangerous three-man stunt in a steel cage without batting an eyelash.  We see immediately that he is a thrilling character, dangerous and effortlessly cool.  I was reminded of Gosling’s turn in Drive, which also began with a riveting introduction to the main character in his element.  Before he leaves for his next city, he is visited by Romina (Eva Mendes, The Other Guys), an old flame.  Ro wears a pained expression, and their interaction is cautious and awkward as he drives her home.  He tells Ro that he will be leaving town soon, but he later stops by spontaneously one last time before hitting the road.  Ro isn’t home, but her mother answers the door holding an infant, which turns out to be his son Jason.

Luke is upset that Ro didn’t tell him about his son, although he hadn’t kept in contact with her since his last visit.  He immediately feels a sense of responsibility and decides to stick around town, quitting the carnival.  He shifts gears and wants to be a provider, though he is totally unequipped and unprepared for fatherhood.  The fact that Ro is in a relationship with a new man (Mahershala Ali, House of Cards) and surrogate father to Jason only adds to Luke’s feelings of inadequacy and emasculation.  Soon he meets Robin, a friendly swindler who easily convinces him to knock off a bank for a quick, small score.  In a brazen daytime robbery, Luke rides his motorcycle up to the bank door and surprises unsuspecting tellers in a daring heist.  He makes his exit quickly, zipping through traffic at a harrowing clip to rendezvous with Robin.  These moments when Gosling (or his stunt double) weaved his way through traffic and the pine trees of the forest on his motorcycle were amazing.

Eventually Luke crosses paths with Avery Cross (Bradley Cooper, Silver Linings Playbook) an ambitious Schenectady cop who is privy to larger corruption within the department.  The movie shifts at the midway point, and we begin to see life through Avery’s eyes.  Despite the varied perspectives, the film never felt unfocused.  As we examine the aftermath of their interaction, a parallel storyline emerges, as Luke’s fate and that of his infant son become inextricably tied to Avery Cross, who also has a baby boy.  As the movie unfolds, a haunting context emerges, giving more resonance to Gosling’s character, even when he is not on screen.

From Blue Valentine to Drive, Gosling always strikes the right note and draws the viewer in to his characters’ emotions.  His portrayal was authentic, and I never doubted the performance.  There was a fateful air of sadness that hung over the movie, and Luke was a sympathetic character despite his criminal leanings.  Luke’s energy was palpable, and Gosling was magnetic in every scene.  The Place Beyond the Pines was a poignant, electrifying movie that explored the themes of fatherhood and manhood in a stirring and powerful way.  The camera loves Ryan Gosling, and you will too. Grade: A.

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