Ryan Gosling is such a terrific actor that even when he plays less-than-upstanding characters (which he does more often than not), you find yourself wanting to sympathize with him. And this is the case again in the brooding The Place Beyond the Pines, which reunites Gosling with director and screenwriter Derek Cianfrance, who directed him in 2010's Blue Valentine, a film for which Gosling should have received an Oscar nomination.
Luke Glanton (Gosling) is a motorcycle daredevil who performs in a traveling carnival. When the carnival returns to Schenectady, NY, Luke sees Romina (Eva Mendes), a woman with whom he had a one-night stand the last time he was in town, he finds out that she had given birth to his son, and was raising him with her new boyfriend. Luke is overwhelmed by this revelation, and decides he should stay in town and try to find a place in both of their lives, which is, of course, easier said than done.
Desperate to find a way to provide for his son, Luke turns to robbing banks, aided by his superior motorcycling skills and mentored by former bank robber Robin (The Dark Knight Rises' Ben Mendelsohn). But Romina doesn't want Luke's help, and she struggles with his presence in her life, particularly as his frustration turns to rage. And when Luke's desperation pushes him too far, he finds himself on a collision course with an earnest young policeman, Avery Cross (Bradley Cooper).
This is a difficult movie to review without spoilers, and the movie is much more expansive than what you see in the trailers. The movie follows Cross' rise, fueled by outside circumstances and his own ambitions, and then moves forward 15 years, when it follows two teenage boys, driven by a powerful yet unknown legacy that will touch both of them significantly.
The Place Beyond the Pines is far from a perfect filmit moves a little too slowly and is a little too long, and has perhaps a few too many twists and turns. But the performancesparticularly from Gosling, Mendes, and Dane DeHaanare complex and powerful, and the movie makes you think about how future generations are affected by the actions of the past. This is a movie about fathers and sons, and how trying to do the right thing for your child isn't always the right thing.