[Screen It]


(2013) (Ryan Gosling, Bradley Cooper) (R)

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Drama: The lives of a motorcycle stunt driver, a street patrol cop and their sons intersect in ways they couldn't have imagined.
Luke Glanton (RYAN GOSLING) is a motorcycle stunt driver who performs in a traveling carnival. Their latest stop is in Schenectady, New York where Luke runs into Romina (EVA MENDES), a waitress with whom he had a fling a year earlier. Unbeknownst to him, that resulted in a child who Romina is raising with her live-in boyfriend, Kofi (MAHERSHALA ALI). Suddenly feeling paternalistic, Luke quits his gig and takes a job working for Robin (BEN MENDELSOHN), a low-end local mechanic who sees something in the young man. Namely, that's someone who could help him return to his old ways of robbing banks.

Avery Cross (BRADLEY COOPER) is a street cop there, married to Jennifer (ROSE BYRNE) and father of their young son. During a routine day, he spots a wanted criminal, gives chase and ends up wounded in the process of killing the perp. District Attorney Bill Killcullen (BRUCE GREENWOOD) ultimately clears him of any wrongdoing, but Avery's supreme court judge dad, Al (HARRIS YULIN), still thinks his son is wasting his potential and education. But other cops such as Scott (GABE FAZIO) and veteran detective Deluca (RAY LIOTTA) view Avery as a hero clearly qualified to receive some illegally gained cash. And that's just the tip of the iceberg that Avery soon discovers lurking beneath the local police department.

Fifteen years later, Avery is running for Attorney General when his ex-wife informs him that he must have their troubled teenage son AJ (EMORY COHEN) live with him before completely going off the rails. Avery isn't crazy about the idea but takes on the challenge that involves AJ transferring to a new school. There, he meets fellow loner and outcast Jason (DANE DeHAAN), with the two quickly becoming fast friends even if AJ's behavior ultimately ends up a bit wild for Jason. As their interaction becomes increasingly intense, they soon discover part of the reason for that.

OUR TAKE: 6 out of 10
The old saying goes "The sins of the father shall be visited upon the son," which is a more dire way of looking at a negative interpretation of another lineage statement, "The apple doesn't fall far from the tree" and, in a more primitive way, even "Monkey see, monkey do." All of which relates to kids being sponges and whatever they soak up they'll eventually squeeze back out. And if you look at families where criminal behavior, other social issues and such seem to be passed from one generation to another, you can certainly seem to find one degree or another of truth in such proclamations.

Director Derek Cianfrance, who works from a script he penned with Ben Coccio and Darius Marder, examines that very topic in "The Place Beyond the Pines," a crime drama spanning two decades and three distinct but interrelated stories. The first centers on a motorcycle stuntman (Ryan Gosling) who discovers that a past fling with a local waitress (Eva Mendes) resulted in a baby. Suddenly feeling paternalistic and in need of making enough money to support the kid, he turns to a life of crime due to the encouragement of a mechanic (Ben Mendelsohn) he works for.

The second leg revolves around a cop (Bradley Cooper) who has a run-in with the motorcyclist and has his life changed as a result. His wife (Rose Byrne) isn't happy with the dangers he faces, his judge dad (Harris Yulin) thinks he's wasting his potential working as a cop, and other cops (including one played by Ray Liotta) demonstrate that -- gasp -- there's corruption within the police department.

What transpires in part two affects the characters in play in the concluding chapter. And that centers on two outsider high school students (Emory Cohen and Dane DeHaan) who end up coincidentally meeting and don't realize until it's too late the fate that has brought them together. They're the aforementioned sons of the preceding main characters, and the sins of their fathers do indeed ultimately affect them.

In the filmmakers' world, however, that has less to do with nurture (as the boys don't grow up observing their dads to copy their behavior) than nature and, if you will, karma kicking in for a little pass it on and down retribution. Some viewers will be enthralled by how all of that plays out and comes full circle. Others will find it too contrived and/or melodramatic. And the rest might be like yours truly, seeing it as an interesting if flawed effort that's better in concept than realized execution.

As I sat down for our press screening, I had nearly no advance knowledge about the film (other than it starred Gosling) or even the meaning behind its title that sounds like it could be a Nicholas Sparks work (it's actually a lose Mohawk translation of Schenectady which is where the tale transpires). Gosling is such a magnetic presence (and Mendelsohn is such a good character actor) that I was immediately sucked into the story of a guy going to extreme and unwise measures to support his child. And despite Cianfrance's occasional preference for shooting certain scenes as if shot from inside a washing machine, I was intrigued to see how things were going to play out (and how this seemingly simple and straightforward story was going to fill 140 minutes of screen time).

And then the flick suddenly takes a ninety-degree turn and heads in another direction, abruptly shifting its focus elsewhere. Films that do that (think of "Psycho" and its similarly abrupt hand-off) can be brilliant if handled correctly, but they also run the risk of alienating or at least losing the viewer who's become attached in one way or another to the original story and its core characters.

I like films that defy expectation or can truly surprise us, and this one appeared to bravely change gears and directions with this about-face. But when I realized it was going to remain connected to the first chapter and then delve into the less interesting "police can be corrupt too" storyline (which has been down about a gazillion times before) I felt a bit let down. It's not bad, it's just unoriginal and pales in comparison to what preceded it.

By the time the concluding act rolled around, I pretty much figured it was also going to connect back around to the earlier material and it does. Yet, the performances from Cohen and DeHaan are so good (and scarily indicative of youth gone awry) that I found myself intrigued once again. Some may find the revelation that occurs regarding them as too contrived and manipulative, but I have to admit I didn't see it coming (although I obviously should have).

The cumulative result is a picture that explores interesting themes and features solid to strong performances, but takes a few missteps along the way, including allowing the puppeteer's strings to show a few too many times. It certainly turned into something I wasn't expecting, but perhaps another pass or two through the screenwriting and/or editing process might have resulted in something truly profound and amazing. Somewhat suffering from the old condition of not being able to see the forest for the trees in terms of fully exploring its themes, "The Place Beyond the Pines" rates as a 6 out of 10.

Reviewed March 15, 2013 / Posted April 5, 2013

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