The Place Beyond the Pines (2012)

Starring: Ryan Gosling, Bradley Cooper, Eva Mendes, Ray Liotta, Ben Mendelsohn, Dane DeHaan, Emory Cohen

Directed by: Derek Cianfrance

Rating: 1 2 3 4 and a half

Ryan Gosling as Luke in The Place Beyond the Pines

In The Place Beyond the Pines, heartthrob Ryan Gosling plays a supercool, monosyllabic stuntman who… time out, time out, stop the bike. Haven't we been here before? But this powerful, sprawling epic is no Drive. While Nicholas Winding Refn's movie was slickly sexy and violent, pulsating with the neon vibes of '80s action flicks, Derek Cianfrance's film harks back to the classic American cinema of the 1970s and beyond, an absorbing family saga about rising and falling fortunes, secrets and lies returning to haunt the next generation, in the tradition of Giant, Once Upon A Time in America or even The Godfather (but with fewer dodgy ageing prosthetics).

Gosling's Luke scrapes a living as a motorcycle daredevil in a travelling fair. But on returning to the leafy pastures of Schenectady, New York, he runs into past fling Rowena (Eva Mendes – the only person in the movie who seems to age) and discovers that he has a son. His world is rocked on its axis, and he determines to renounce his nomadic existence and become a part of his son's life – whether Rowena wants it or not. But how to provide for his newfound family? Step up new bezzie mate Robin (Ben Mendelsohn) who may or may not be slightly in love with this mysterious, bleach blond, tattooed stranger. Not only does this grimy, alcoholic fairy godfather supply Luke with employment in his backwoods garage and a place to sleep in a run-down trailer, but he also introduces him to a lucrative sideline particularly suited to his 'unique skillset' as a stunt rider: bank robbery.

Bradley Cooper and Ray Liotta in The Place Beyond the Pines

But as Luke's crime spree escalates, we switch our attention to rookie cop Avery Cross (Bradley Cooper), an ambitious ex-lawyer whose patrol is violently interrupted by the 'Moto Bandit'. And so is sparked a shocking chain of events that will resound into the next generation, as the two men's sons encounter each other fifteen years later (via a somewhat strained coincidence, but I'll let that pass) to bring the story full circle.

Dane DeHaan as Jason in The Place Beyond the Pines

At over two hours long, The Place Beyond the Pines is not for those short on attention span or weak of bladder. But I have to say I was riveted the whole way through this elegiac, involving, occasionally shocking movie. Boldly and ruthlessly playing with our expectations, it constantly forces us to realign our sympathies with different characters in a tale that is never black and white but instead portrays an artfully shaded palette of shifting greys. Crucially, therefore, the casting is spot-on: Gosling and Cooper turn in sterling performances, while the two younger boys are excellent, played by relative newcomer Emory Cohen and Chronicle's Dane DeHaan (aka the heir to Leonardo DiCaprio). And it's always good to see Ray Liotta on screen, here playing – who else? – the only straightforwardly crooked character in the film, his pockmarked face and conspiratorial bonhomie an ominous shorthand for 'here comes trouble'...

Beautifully and thoughtfully scored by Faith No More's Mike Patton and expertly shot, with a deft mix of heart-in-mouth handheld camera action and lush, autumn gold, open road scenes, The Place Beyond the Pines is a confident, thought-provoking, lovingly crafted movie that takes its time to make its points about family, destiny and history without ever losing focus. Highly recommended.

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