Sins of the father
Many stars shine in expansive multigenerational crime drama
The new film from Derek Cianfrance (Blue Valentine) is an unusual and unusually good multi-character crime drama. Ryan Gosling is superb in a featured role, but it’s not just a Gosling vehicle.
The Gosling character’s story takes up the whirlwind first part in The Place Beyond the Pines, but the narrative focus soon pivots to a young policeman (played by Bradley Cooper) who must navigate the stormy aftermath—the moral, political, legal and familial fall-out—of the Gosling segment. And the final part, 15 years after the first two parts, follows the conflicts between the two men’s sons (the kids are infants when the two adults first collide, but they’re at-risk teenagers when the two of them meet at a Schenectady high school).
The Gosling episode, with its crime spree and motorcycle stunts, is the most dynamic and dramatically tumultuous, but the busted relationships and dramatic crossfire of the other two episodes still draw their power from the paradoxes and clashing undercurrents of the first.
Luke (Gosling) is a tattooed carny and motorcycle stunt-rider, a charismatic outsider and fledgling psychopath, a heedlessly impulsive lone-wolf outlaw. He begins stumbling toward a new sense of connectedness when he discovers that he has an infant son—fathered with Romina (Eva Mendes) on a one-night stand during a previous carnival tour. That knowledge also propels him into a series of increasingly frenzied bank robberies.
Avery Cross (Cooper) enters the story on what turns out to be the last day of Luke’s life—he’s a young patrolman who happens to catch up with Luke at the end of the chase that ensues after a thoroughly botched hold-up attempt. By the final phase of the story, Avery is trying to parlay his work for the district attorney into a run for political office.
Jason (Dane DeHaan), son of Rowina and Luke, meets up with A J (Emory Cohen), son of divorced parents Avery and Jennifer (Rose Byrne)—both recognize each other as fellow loners in high school. The two of them are beneficiaries and victims of their fathers’ contrasting legacies. Luke and Avery are two very different kinds of compromised hero, both of whom walk a tightrope of gallantry and treachery, both of whom leave trails of violence and good intentions.
Mendes is very good in an uncharacteristically subdued role—the movie’s Romina is something of an adventurous outlaw in her own right, brave and reckless but also frequently in need of protection.
Other good performances—Ray Liotta as a corrupt cop with a twisted sense of team spirit; Harris Yulin as Avery’s world-weary father (a retired judge); and (perhaps best of all) Ben Mendelsohn as a sad-sack auto mechanic and sometime criminal who takes a brief but intense liking to Luke and who tries to help Jason in a moment of Luke-like desperation.