(US - 2013)
Directed by Derek Cianfrance. Written by Derek Cianfrance, Ben Coccio, and Darius Marder. Cast: Ryan Gosling, Bradley Cooper, Eva Mendes, Ray Liotta, Ben Mendelsohn, Dane DeHaan, Rose Byrne, Harris Yulin, Mahershala Ali, Bruce Greenwood, Emory Cohen, Gabe Fazio. (R, 140 mins)
Writer/director Derek Cianfrance follows up his acclaimed 2010 breakthrough BLUE VALENTINE with THE PLACE BEYOND THE PINES, a long and engrossing saga of the irreversible ripple effect of decisions, no matter how small, than can change the course of an untold number of lives. It's an extremely ambitious work and one that confirms Cianfrance as one of America's major filmmakers. It's not flawless--one gets the feeling in the third act that the film is getting away from Cianfrance a bit with the motivations of one character coming across as a little forced. But throughout, Cianfrance and co-writers Ben Coccio and Darius Marder fashion a genuinely unpredictable story with complex, often tragic characters that are vividly brought to life by a terrific ensemble cast where each actor, even in the smallest role, gets a memorable moment in the spotlight.
Set in Schenectady over a 15-year period beginning in 1997, the film has motorcycle stunt rider Luke Glanton (Cianfrance's BLUE VALENTINE star Ryan Gosling) working in a traveling fair making its annual stop in the city. He's visited by townie Romina (Eva Mendes) and finds out that her infant son Jason is the result of their brief fling the year before. Even though Romina is settled down with new boyfriend Kofi (Mahershala Ali), Luke impulsively quits his job and decides to stay in Schenectady, befriending low-rent mechanic Robin (Ben Mendelsohn) and crashing in a trailer on his property, with the intention of winning over Romina, providing for Jason, and settling down as a family. When Robin confesses that he used to rob banks, the two team up and pull off several jobs (Luke robs the banks, speeds off on his motorcycle and drives into the back of a moving truck that Robin's acquired). When Luke shows up at Kofi's house with a new crib and gifts for Jason, tempers flare and Luke violently assaults Kofi. Robin bails him out and tells him they're done with their criminal side activities, but an enraged Luke carelessly pulls off a solo job.
It's here that the film switches gears and enters its second act with the introduction of ambitious rookie cop Avery Cross (Bradley Cooper), a law school graduate whose life becomes inextricably linked with Luke's on the day their paths cross in a police chase. Married to Jennifer (Rose Byrne) and with an infant son, Cross takes a bullet to the leg that derails his career. Faced with early retirement due to disability or manning a desk, Cross chooses to remain a cop and is assigned to the evidence room, where he falls in with a band of corrupt cops led by the pushy, manipulative DeLuca (Ray Liotta). Cross decides to pull a Serpico on his fellow cops, instantly becoming a department pariah but using it to leverage himself a career with the D.A.'s office.