R (strong language throughout, some violence, teen drug and alcohol use, and a sexual reference); 140 min.
Violence is the trigger in The Place Beyond the Pines, Derek Cianfrance's latest love letter to bad breaks. Starring Ryan Gosling, Eva Mendes, Bradley Cooper, Ray Liotta and Dane DeHaan, the movie is intimate in its telling and sweeping in its issues, and stumbles only occasionally.
Instead of the serenity and contentment suggested by the title, Cianfrance has created a troubling trilogy on the legacy of one brutal encounter that cuts a destructive path through multiple lives.
The first of Pines' three stories is Luke's (Gosling). Cianfrance carefully stacks the deck against the motorcycle stunt rider, and ultimately everyone else in turn. Hair bleached nearly white, Luke is a sinewy, tattooed daredevil whose cage-riding thrills are the main attraction in a traveling carnival.
Romina (Mendes), a lean beauty with bruised eyes and a perpetual pout, shows up one night and life shifts. It takes a while to find out that their hook-up the last time he was in town produced a son.
It doesn't take long for Luke to cross paths with the law, in this case a street cop named Avery (Cooper). Their face-off goes badly, and the film shifts to Avery's story, the hometown hero who saved the day. That day will trouble Avery for a lifetime. His own fortunes turn on it.
The third chapter picks up 15 years later. Avery's son AJ (Emory Cohen) has grown into a privileged kid primed to go bad. Luke's boy, Jason (DeHaan), is living with a now worn-down mom and stepdad Kofi on the economic margins. With the rough edges of its sprawling tale sometimes exposed, The Place Beyond the Pines never quite reaches the refinement of Cianfrance's Blue Valentine.
But it does give us the sort of down-market lives we too rarely see and a kind of heartbreak that is rarer still -- moving, evocative and even a little hopeful.
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-- Betsy Sharkey, Los Angeles Times