Morality is flexible and self-interest is paramount. Another terrific collaboration between director and star.
Luke (Ryan Gosling) is a motorcycle stunt rider in a “circus-style” county fair traveling show. In a Cirque du Soliel type of circular cage, Luke, along with two other motorcyclists, go fast around the cage trying not to crash into each other. Luke is the star attraction.
In a stopover on the circuit in Schenectady, New York, Luke’s brief fling Romina (Eva Mendes) turns up. He gives her a ride home but she tells him she is living with someone. Later, stopping by her house, he sees that Romina has a year old son – his.
Since Luke has absolutely no savings, no clothes, and no possessions, his promise to take care of Romina and his son is absurd. When he is offered a daring way out of his financial Waterloo he takes it. Like Willie Sutton said, he goes “where the money is.”
Luke’s decision has consequences and is played out over 15 years. One person linked to Luke is brand new policeman Aaron Cross (Bradley Cooper). Aaron’s life is impacted by crossing paths with Luke.
It is impossible to continue summarizing the plot without running into spoilers. I’d like to highlight the work of Emory Cohen, who plays a young 16 year-old. Casting director Cindy Tolan did her job well. And I love the work of terrific character actor Ben Mendelsohn. His work in KILLING THEM SOFTLY was terrific!
Directed by Derek Cianfrance and co-written with Ben Coccio and Darius Marder, THE PLACE BEYOND THE PINES has a haunting quality that gives it an unsettling, frenetic quality. Starring roles have no sanctified importance for Cianfrance. While Gosling has the drifter vibe down pat – even sporting a tattoo under his eye and amateur graffiti all over his body – his face expresses more than his necessity for dialogue. Cooper, on the other hand, has a role that makes a progression. And he admirably makes the transition. With SILVER LINING PLAYBOOK and now THE PLACE BEYOND THE PINES, Cooper must now be recognized as a first class actor. We can forgive him THE HANGOVER 3 – he’s probably contractually obliged to do it.
There are no pure, blameless characters in Cianfrance’s worldview. Morality is flexible and self-interest is paramount.
This is the second time Ryan Gosling – who could be said to be Cianfrance’s alter-ego – has worked with Cianfrance. They made the highly original, riveting BLUE VALENTINE (2010).
Victoria Alexander is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association: www.bfca.org/ and the Las Vegas Film Critics Society: www.lvfcs.org/. Victoria’s weekly column, “The Devil’s Hammer,” is posted every Monday. http://www.fromthebalcony.com/editorials.php.
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