Star rating - 7/10
The Place Beyond the Pines is a three act tragedy about fathers and sons - but unfortunately not all the parts work as well as each other, and they don't mesh together in as seamless a way as they should do. Unlike his brilliant film Blue Valentine, where the story of a doomed relationship between a young couple was told in both flashback and current time, flitting back and forward between the two to great effect; director Derek Cianfrance tells this one is strict chronological order.
The problem with that is that the undoubted star of the piece is Ryan Gosling, with his charm and magnetic personality oozing through the lens as bad boy and itinerant circus motor bike stunt rider Luke. He rides back into town a year after his last fleeting visit, only to discover that he has a baby son after a fling with Romina, played by Eva Mendes, Gosling's real life partner. Luke takes his responsibilities as a father very seriously, or at least well as seriously as his flawed character can do, and decides to quit the circus and stick around. This understandably doesn't sit too well with Romina's new partner.
Luke finds a job and friend with a local guy Robin who has a small run down motor repair business and is happy to let him stay there and share what little work he has. This friendship is very well done, with Australian actor Ben Mendelsohn shining here as he did in the splendid and brutal Animal Kingdom a couple of years ago. When the money they make is not enough to match what Luke sees as his parental responsibilities, they cook up a plan to rob some banks. Robin' s previous experience in this line of work leads Luke to remark that they will make 'the best team since Hall and Oates'. It is not a plan likely to succeed however, and it ends up bringing Luke face to face with cop Avery Cross, played by the other lead actor Bradley Cooper. The two are only on screen together for a matter of seconds, but it is enough to change both their lives forever.
The next part of the story follows what happens to Cross, how he copes with the aftermath of his encounter with Luke, and his own battle against police corruption, eventually taking him into the realm of politics. It could really have been a film in its own right, as indeed could the initial mesmerising plot involving Gosling. Cooper is good in the role, but the story itself is just not as compelling viewing as its predecessor. And the third unlikely tale of how their two sons end up in high school together , with predictably devastating consequences is just a little too farfetched to keep the thread going.
Although it doesn't work seamlessly, it is worth seeing for the stellar acting of Ryan Gosling as the tattooed anti hero. It's just a case of trying to cram too much into one film, and diluting the message in the attempt. But it's nevertheless a very entertaining watch.