The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


The Place Beyond the Pines

Derek Cianfance is a filmmaker who interests me greatly because he seems fascinated by people. His debut feature, Blue Valentine, was an observant look at a marriage falling apart. His follow-up is The Place Beyond the Pines which, on the surface, looks like a crime drama but is really an examination of morality and dealing with the consequences of one's choices. In both pictures, Cianfrance displays a willingness to dig deeply into the psyches of his characters. The stories themselves are interesting, but it's the psychological profiles that make both of them so memorable.

The Place Beyond the Pines is the story of four males: a stunt motorcycle rider in a traveling carnival (Ryan Gosling) who begins robbing banks to support the infant son his ex (Eva Mendes) never told him about; a rookie cop (Bradley Cooper) who tells a lie to protect himself after a bust gone bad; and two teenagers (Dane DeHaan and Emory Cohen) whose friendship is torn apart by a secret that gets revealed. The lives of all these characters are intertwined, their destinies affected by one another's actions. Each individual also makes a decision that leads to unexpected repercussions he must deal with.

I've intentionally left out a lot of specifics because I went in knowing nothing about the plot, and was genuinely surprised by some of the twists it takes. Having said that, it's important to know that The Place Beyond the Pines is as much about what happens internally as it is about what happens externally. Sometimes in life, we make a bad choice, either out of selfishness or what we imagine to be altruism. They impact not only ourselves but also those around us. The film shows the bad choices made by these men, yet spends even more time exploring what it does to them emotionally. They struggle seeing how their actions hurt others, and with knowing they have caused that hurt. The gray area is where Cianfrance chooses to keep his characters. There's good and bad in all four. Each must learn to confront that about himself. Do any of us want to acknowledge the bad inside us? Painful though it may be, isn't it important to come to terms with that? The Place Beyond the Pines deals with these very questions, digging into the psyches of its multiple protagonists to find the answers.

The cast is outstanding, with all four actors delivering strong, nuanced work. Ryan Gosling again shows a penchant for playing wounded characters. His Luke is so desperate to provide something for his son that he willfully taps into his dark side to make it happen. Gosling is riveting. So is Bradley Cooper, who, with the one-two punch of Silver Linings Playbook and this movie, displays an impressive range and depth previously unseen in his work. In some ways, his character is the most troubled in the film. Cooper powerfully shows how one mistake can haunt someone for years. The younger actors, DeHaan and Cohen, hold their own against more established co-stars. Both capture a mixture of sensitivity and toughness that is often indicative of troubled teens.

At 140 minutes, The Place Beyond the Pines is about twenty minutes too long. There were a couple moments in the third act where I found myself becoming slightly impatient, waiting for the film to reach its climax. Still, ironic though it may be, I have to say that it was this very deliberateness that I admired most about the movie. If the price I had to pay for getting such detailed characterization and thematic development was a small bit of impatience, it was worth it.

Most of the movies you see take a certain shorthand in dealing with their underlying ideas. That's not a criticism, it's just part of trying to traverse a complete arc in roughly two hours. If you're taking a trip, odds are you'll take the most direct route there rather than going out of your way to travel the scenic route, right? Every once in a while, though, you get a movie that dares to take the scenic route. The Place Beyond the Pines is one of them. It allows you to really observe its characters and to ponder the themes that fuel the plot. For that reason, it is a film that makes a deeply emotional impact.

( 1/2 out of four)

The Place Beyond the Pines is rated R for language throughout, some violence, teen drug and alcohol use, and a sexual reference. The running time is 2 hours and 20 minutes.

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