Movie Review: 'The Place Beyond the Pines' -- 2.5 stars

Ryan Gosling in "The Place Beyond the Pines"

Ryan Gosling in "The Place Beyond the Pines" (Credit: Ryan Gosling in "The Place Beyond the Pines")

The Place Beyond the Pines
2.5 stars
Directed by Derek Cianfrance
Starring Ryan Gosling, Bradley Cooper, Eva Mendes
Rated R

In terms of sheer muscular filmmaking, it'd be hard to top Derek Cianfrance's "The Place Beyond the Pines," a sprawling epic about fathers and sons in Schenectady, N.Y. The new drama from the "Blue Valentine" writer-director welds the intimacy of that previous effort with the large-scale scope of a story that spans decades and explores such big concepts as fate, guilt and genetic inheritance.

But the screenplay, which Cianfrance wrote with Ben Coccio and Darius Marder, betrays those best intentions. The movie is neatly divided into three parts, with a story centered on Ryan Gosling's circus-stuntman-turned-bank-robber giving way to Bradley Cooper's police officer and a third act that is best left unexplained here, except to say that it defies all credibility, appearing to have been crafted to fit Cianfrance's pre-determined themes.

Gosling's Luke -- a smoldering, tattooed silent type with rippling abs -- learns he has a son with local Romina (Eva Mendes) and turns to heists to support them. The character might as well be the twin of Gosling's "Drive" protagonist, but Cianfrance brings an urgent melodramatic sensibility to his story. A sense of doom underlines everything about Luke, from his desperate robberies to his motorcycle rides through the vast, soaring upstate pine forests and his best-intentioned efforts to transform into a suitable father.

These scenes benefit from an ideal pairing of director and star, who previously worked together on "Blue Valentine." Both embrace bold gestures that transform the everyday blue-collar setting into a witness to grand, mythical tragedy. From the extended, unbroken tracking shot that opens the movie to the quiet moments directly after a violent confrontation, the tandem presents a man in full, struggling upstream against a heavy current of despair.

The movie settles into more conventional rhythms once the focus shifts to Cooper and completely loses its way after that. The unconvincing narrative subsumes the three-dimensional texture of Cianfrance's effort, hampering what should be a significant emotional payoff in this story of the ways the events of the past ripple through the present. Over the course of its two-and-a-half hours "The Place Beyond the Pines" transitions from greatness to mediocrity. It's one-third masterpiece and two-thirds overheated nonsense.

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