Director Derek Cianfrance shows ambition for days in The Place Beyond the Pines. One story links to another and then another and another, over decades. Hold on tight. It's a beast of a movie, an emotional roller coaster that threatens to go off the rails, and does. But Cianfrance, working from a scrappy script he wrote with Ben Coccio and Darius Marder, takes you on a hell of a ride.
Ryan Gosling, who teamed brilliantly with Cianfrance on Blue Valentine, is spectacular as Luke, a motorcycle stunt driver. And, boy, does he make an entrance. All praise to cinematographer Sean Bobbitt as he follows Luke from his trailer through circus grounds to a steel cage – the Globe of Death – where Luke rides his hog like a loop-de-loop.
At a stop in Schenectady, New York, Luke reconnects with Romina (Eva Mendes), a one-night stand who he learns has given birth to their son, Jason. The fact of fatherhood floors Luke. He wants to put down roots, be responsible. Gosling and Mendes make these scenes sharply funny and touching. But going straight as a mechanic can't compare with the illicit kick of robbing banks, with the help of a partner (a terrific Ben Mendelsohn), and getting away on his motorcycle.
Enter Bradley Cooper as Avery, a rookie cop who has a face-off with Luke that turns the wounded o cer into a local hero. Avery also has father issues. He wants the best for wife Jennifer (Rose Byrne) and their infant son, AJ. But Avery lives in the shadow of his judge father (Harris Yulin) and his surrogate Big Daddy on the force, a corrupt detective played with GoodFellas intensity by Ray Liotta. How Avery's family connects with Luke's is spoiler territory that merits careful treading. But Cooper's ferocity and feeling pull you in.
The film skips ahead 15 years to focus on the sons of these flawed fathers. The grown AJ (Emory Cohen) and Jason (Dane DeHaan) – one spoiled, the other struggling – interconnect in ways you don't see coming. DeHaan, a young actor of staggering gifts, is especially moving, his face a road map of youthful confusion and need. Cianfrance bites off more than one film can effectively chew, much less digest. But Pines sticks with you. It's a keeper.