Courtesy of Focus Features
“The Place Beyond the Pines” is a movie you’d probably have to see three or four times to really “get it.” It most likely deviates completely from what you’d expect upon catching its preview or looking at its poster.
It’s a movie that commands your attention, that you mustn’t watch passively. If you want to go to the theater just to admire Ryan Gosling, Bradley Cooper or Eva Mendes, its beautiful stars, don’t waste your money.
On that note, Gosling looks like a drugged-out version of Nick Carter, and Mendes looks old and exhausted in the film anyway.
The film is told in three parts, which could be disorienting if you miss something, but director Derek Cianfrance’s vision works here. This three-part dynamic, which Cianfrance referred to as a “triptych” in an interview with Flavorwire, does make the film hard to review without giving away major spoilers.
Gosling stars as Luke, a motorcycle rider in a traveling circus, who quits his job when he finds out his ex-lover, Romina (played by Mendes), had given birth to his child, Jason, who is now a 1-year-old.
Cooper plays rookie police officer Avery Cross, who, when he first comes across Luke, also has a 1-year-old son, named AJ. He enters about 45 minutes into the movie, and the middle of the film is dedicated mainly to Avery’s story as he rises in the ranks of a corruption-ridden police department.
The 17-year-old versions of Jason and AJ are played by Dane DeHaan and Emory Cohen, respectively, and the roles are perfectly cast. The boys’ stories are the final focus in “Pines.”
It would be easy to spoil the entire plot, as it constantly jumps between so many exciting moments. But half of the fun is watching everything unfold onscreen.
The beginning of the film is a bit rushed. We’re barely even introduced to Luke and his lifestyle before he suddenly quits his job for Romina, who we hardly know before she springs the news of Luke’s child on him, and on us.
We aren’t given the chance to relate to Luke before he suddenly starts crying. It’s hard to properly react when we lack a connection to the character.
In line with the rushed beginning, Luke quickly goes from homeless to employed and living in a trailer provided to him by a stranger named Robin who he meets while riding his motorcycle through the woods. Seriously?
This does however, introduce one of the film’s most likeable and well-cast actors, Ben Mendelsohn. His character Robin is dirty, simple and owns a vehicle repair shop. He is kind with a wild edge and helps Luke as he pursues bank-robbing as a way to pay to support Jason.
Perhaps one of the best scenes in the film is Luke and Robin’s first hold-up. It’s an adrenaline-packed moment that makes the audience members’ hearts race right along with Luke’s. I felt like I had just robbed a bank, watching the rushed, suspenseful scene, and I could relate completely when Luke’s reaction upon reaching safety was to vomit.
After the robbery, Luke surprises Romina with the money from the heist, in a 1980s, John Hughes-esque moment as he waits for her at her car when she gets off work.
This leads into one of the film’s many unanswered questions. Romina and Luke are lying in bed in one scene, then she’s back with her boyfriend in the next. There is no explanation for why Romina temporarily chooses Luke.
Another loose end comes from Avery’s role. As a police offer, he works to expose corruption in the department, but as the film jumps around, we never really find out what happens to the department, if anything.
Overall, the film is confusing at times, but it delivers. It’s unlike any film I’ve ever seen – compacting multiple intersecting plot lines and managing to be a heist film, a romance and a case study on father-son relationships, legacy and what it means to be a man all at once. It’s packed with thrilling action but at the same time has moments of calm recognition and everyday life. It’s as simple as it is complex – a paradox that unfolds beautifully.
“The Place Beyond the Pines” is most likely a film viewers will either love or hate. And that impression can change in the days or weeks after seeing it for the first time. But its 140 minutes of screen time are truly original and cinematically beautiful.
The film is set to open select theaters, including Columbus, Friday.