The Place Beyond the Pines, the new film by the director of Blue Valentine, does not lack for ambition. Beginning with its bravura opening shot — an uninterrupted take of Luke (Ryan Gosling), a motorcycle stunt rider, as he dresses in his tent and walks through a carnival to the stage where he’ll be performing — director Derek Cianfrance lets us know he’s working on a larger canvas. This is a drama spanning two generations. But while the scope of the movie is bigger, its impact is smaller. Blue Valentine was a precise, heartrending portrait of a marriage coming apart at the seams. The theme of his new movie is a lot harder to discern.
Gosling, his body covered in tattoos and his hair dyed straw-blond, is duplicating his performance from Drive here, all stoic airs and thoughtful stares and moments of explosive physical motion. Luke is a quiet loner who seems to have no familial or friendly ties. But then his carnival passes through Schenectady and he discovers he has a 1-year old son — the fruit of a one-night stand with Romina (Eva Mendes), to whom he hasn’t spoken since.
Fatherhood awakens a selflessness in Luke — a desire to provide for his family, even though Romina is in a relationship with a good man — and he quits the circus and stays in town, intending to work at an auto repair shop. Instead, he ends up robbing banks.
That’s only the setup for The Place Beyond the Pines, a movie that reaches much further (and lasts much longer; nearly 2 and 1/2 hours) than the beginning implies. Bradley Cooper figures prominently as a rookie cop with political aspirations. Ray Liotta is at his slimy best as a crooked detective capable of murder. Dane DeHaan (Chronicle) and Emory Cohen are a pair of high schoolers experimenting with drugs.
How and why their stories connect is startling in moments, contrived in others and overall rarely believable. It’s good to see Mendes in a role that uses her for more than her looks: Her longing for Luke, a man she assumed she would never see again, is unspoken but palpable. Cooper continues to prove The Silver Linings Playbook was no fluke: Here is an actor who gets better with every movie.
But no amount of good acting or beautiful cinematography (shot by Sean Bobbitt) can rescue a movie that is this belabored and prolonged, only to illustrate a banal (and telegraphed) message about how the sins of the father are handed down to their sons. Early in the movie, there’s a scene in which three characters pose for a photograph, and you immediately guess that photo will reappear later on, in a moment designed to elicit tears. Cue the violins. Blue Valentine was tough and honest and brutal about human relationships and the ways in which we sometimes hurt the ones we love most. But The Place Beyond the Pines is hackneyed and dull: Not a single moment rings true.
Cast: Ryan Gosling, Bradley Cooper, Eva Mendes, Ray Liotta, Ben Mendehlson, Rose Byrne, Bruce Greenwood, Dane DeHaan, Emory Cohen.
Director: Derek Cianfrance.
Screenwriters: Derek Cianfrance, Ben Coccio, Darius Marder.
Producers: Lynette Howell, Sidney Kimmel, Alex Orlovsky.
A Focus Features release. Running time: 140 minutes. Vulgar language, violence, gore, sexual situations, drug use, adult themes. Playing at: area theaters.