Bradley Cooper as Avery Cross
Ryan Gosling as Luke
Eva Mendes as Romina
Rose Byrne as Jennifer
Dane DeHaan as Jason
Ray Liotta as Deluca
Bruce Greenwood as Bill Killcullen
Ben Mendelsohn as Robin Van Der Zee
Mahershala Ali as Kofi
Harris Yulin as Al
Emory Cohen as AJ
Robert Clohessy as Chief Weirzbowski
Olga Merediz as Malena
Kevin Craig West as Sergeant
Gabe Fazio as Scott
Directed by Derek Cianfrance
Handsome Luke (Ryan Gosling) is a stunt motorcyclist at the circus who returns to an upstate town where he encounters a former fling (Eva Mendes), who has had his child since he was last in town. Soon after, he meets Robin (Ben Mendelsohn), a former bank robber who realizes that Luke’s skills on a motorcycle can be used to rob local banks.
Avery Cross (Bradley Cooper) is a rookie cop on the force who becomes a hero when he stops one of Luke’s robberies, but he soon learns of the extreme corruption on his local police force, so he decides to reveal it to the press.
15 years later, their two sons Jason (Dane DeHaan) and AJ (Emory Cohen) have become friendly unaware of the past history between their fathers.
Derek Cianfrance’s “Blue Valentine” was quite a breakthrough in that it took 12 years for the filmmakers to make and nearly another year for it to be released following its Sundance premiere. By comparison, this follow-up feels much more immediate, having premiered at Toronto just six months ago, and though it reunites the director with Ryan Gosling, it’s a very different movie, one that veers into the world of genre at times, even throwing in a bit of action, while still retaining Cianfrance’s artier tendencies.
It opens on Gosling as Handsome Luke, a circus stunt cyclist who we watch zooming around a circular cage with two other motorcycles, and as cool as that sounds, one probably shouldn’t get too used to it, since Luke soon quits the circus when he learns he has an illegitimate son in town from a previous fling. He decides he should settle down locally to help support the boy’s mother Romina, played by Eva Mendes, except that she has already settled down with another man, so having Luke around makes her life more difficult. At the same time, Luke falls in with a former bank robber, played by Ben Mendelsohn, and the two of them stage elaborate bank robberies using Luke’s high-speed motorcycle skills.
About an hour into the movie, you may start wondering what happened to Bradley Cooper, since he’s so prominently featured in the advertising and he finally shows up as Avery, one of the police officers sent after Luke during his latest robbery. He’s injured while trying to stop Luke and the story then shifts to his recovery and dealing with the aftermath of the incident. When his fellow police officers swing by Avery’s house to take him out on the town, they have less than honorable intentions since they’ve learned about Luke’s relationship with Romina and they show up at her house looking for the money he stole. Avery doesn’t think too much of the incident, but as they try to rope him into other forms of corruption, his sense of justice comes into place forcing him to take action.
What makes the film interesting is its narrative that literally creates three interlocking stories in one movie and after spending 40 minutes with Cooper’s character dealing with his moral dilemma, we then cut forward 15 years and start following two high school students who become friends. If you’ve been paying attention or know in advance that Dane DeHaan plays a character named Jason then you may be able to figure out where things are going as he and Avery’s troubled son AJ start hanging together.
Gosling gives another terrific performance on par with his work in “Blue Valentine” and “Drive” and the strong on-screen chemistry between him and Mendes may not be so surprising knowing their off-screen relationship. Their moments together also help ground the more exciting action scenes where Gosling is robbing banks and zooming around the streets. There’s little question that the hour that follows Gosling is the best part of the movie, which may be why the next 90 minutes feels like somewhat of a letdown.
Cooper is good though not quite on par with Gosling or some of his other work, while the younger actors just don’t have the charisma of their elder counterparts to make the high school segment nearly as interesting. On top of that, the motivations of the characters aren’t always believable because they don’t feel nearly as developed as might have been the case if we had more time with them before the incident. Poor Ray Liotta is once again typecast as a corrupt cop trying to drag Avery into his group’s bad dealings with his imposing presence. Of course, he’s great in such a role even if it might not be too plausible there would be so much crime and police corruption in the upstate New York town of Schenectady.
In creating this interlocking character piece, Cianfrance doesn’t entirely rely on dialogue and the caliber of his cast, instead creating a hypnotic atmosphere helped by a suitably ambient score by Faith No More’s Mike Patton. Unfortunately, that feeling created during the Gosling segment quickly dissipates, only to return for the very ending.
The big problem with trying to tell a story in this fashion, essentially three separate stories that connect together, is that it leads to a film that’s way too long to sustain interest. Because it never feels like either Luke or Avery’s story’s are properly resolved before we cut ahead 15 years, those who want to see more of Gosling’s character and his action-packed segment may be disappointed once it cuts to the others.
The Bottom Line:
“The Place Beyond the Pines” may not be nearly as strong as Cianfrance’s previous movie, nor does it feel like the overall movie stands up to the Ryan Gosling segment, but it comes across as an interesting dramatic storytelling experiment that ultimately pays off.