Wes Reviews: “The Place Beyond the Pines”

3.5 stars out of 4

MPAA rating: Rated R for language throughout, some violence, teen drug and alcohol use, and a sexual reference

Running time: 140 minutes

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tjes7u9Vewc&w=560&h=315]

Released in theaters two weekends ago, “The Place Beyond the Pines” is the latest from relative newcomer Derek Cianfrance, director of 2010’s “Blue Valentine.”

To be frank, this movie is worth seeing. Cinematic experiences like this, where viewers have no clear idea where the movie is taking them, are quite rare. Although I wish it had been a stronger movie, the first time around is quite an experience that does not get boring to discuss or think about afterwards.

Ryan Gosling stars as Luke Glanton, a motorcycle stuntman working for a carnival that comes to Schenectady, N.Y., whereupon he discovers that he has a son through a former lover of his, played by Eva Mendes. Blaming his current loser status on not having a father when he grew up, Luke decides that he needs to quit the carnival and stay in town so that he can be around when his baby grows up. Not deterred by the fact that Eva Mendes already has another man in her life, Luke determines to find a way he can make a living using his “skill set.” Through a lack of thought on the part of Luke, this results in robbing banks.

Opposite Gosling, Bradley Cooper plays Avery Cross, a police officer that is surprised to discover corruption within Schenectady’s Police Department. Indeed, the movie’s powerful beginning (led by Gosling) leads way to heavy mental anguish carried by Cooper’s character as he searches for the best way to handle crime both outside and within the police department.

This movie is filled with vivid color, music, and acting; but, it stumbles a bit when it comes to directing and writing. In those two areas, the movie comes close, but can’t get it quite right. The direction is quite strong in the beginning and the writing is quite strong in the middle, but neither is consistent enough.

Furthermore, the movie is built around a strange sort of mythology in which the connection between father and son is more important than any other relationship. The movie claims that having a lost or strained relationship with one’s father is enough to completely mess up a boy’s entire life.

Where does all this assumed mythology come from? I am not exactly sure, but one probable source is Nicholas Ray’s “Rebel Without a Cause,” another movie in which the lack of an ideal masculine father has disproportional effects. Despite the ridiculousness of the idea that a missing father will lead to inevitable causeless rebellion, this movie, like “Rebel,” has a certain haunting glamour to it.

The movie hardly even considers the role of the mother. Some of this is due to her presence being taken for granted. It should also be noted that in this movie’s universe, the presence of a stepfather does not seem to make much of a difference in a boy’s life, even if this stepfather has been around since the boy’s infancy.

There is something very transporting about this movie. This is not a bad thing. After all, people want “transporting cinema,” right? By getting thrown into the lives of characters in ways we were not planning (due to the unraveling and unpredictable plot), viewers feel as if they are being taken along for the ride. Similarly, because the idea that a boy will suffer immensely without a masculine (biological) father is assumed, we are transported. In this regard, the movie is not making an argument, it is making a declaration—a declaration that you either have to accept or reject. However, if you reject it, you would also have to reject the great ride that the movie is offering.