For everyone who wasn’t into Derek Cianfrance’s eccentric, love and break-up story Blue Valentine (2010), the director’s latest offering starts off as a more thrilling, tense and ambiguous piece of work, not least in terms of making use of a fast-paced, crime-drama plot to explore the troubled mindset of his lead character, who finds himself confronted with his own actions and liabilities. Yet whether an abrupt genre twist in the second half of the film, and the decision to cast another of Hollywood’s currently most-wanted male actors as a co-lead, pays off to everyone’s satisfaction, may be the cause of some argument.
Ryan Gosling is Luke, a stunt-bike rider who learns that he has a son by one of his ex-lovers, Romina (Eva Mendes). All ready to man up, he instantly decides to swap his life riding the Cage of Death at funfairs for some time with his accidentally found family. Problem is, Luke doesn’t have the money to support the family in the way he feels he should, so it doesn’t take much for his new boss and drinking chum Robin (Ben Mendelsohn) to convince him that, instead of sticking to a decent, if underpaid, job as a mechanic, they are better off robbing banks, using Luke’s motorcycle and vicious driving skills to dupe the police. But soon Luke can’t get enough, a raid goes terribly wrong, and then that’s that. In a quarter of a second, the focus shifts to seemingly mild-minded but zealous street cop Avery Cross (Bradley Cooper), who has his very own agenda, yet his life and Luke’s become inevitably entwined. After being injured during the raid, Avery plunges into a crisis that sees him dangerously caught in the system, while Cianfrance spares no effort pulling his new front man through every plot twist and turn that could possibly come out of such a premise, until all of the characters have finally revealed their true connections and colours.
Although the story becomes increasingly heavy-handed in places, and at times a little too clichéd, The Place Beyond the Pines benefits in no small part from Gosling’s contribution, delivering yet another convincing performance in a nuanced study of audacity and vulnerability. As long as he sets the pace, the film dazzles, surprises and amazes if, ultimately, it turns into a moody, meandering thriller-drama that falls slightly short of the mark and its bold, epic ambitions.
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