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The Place Beyond the Pines

Director: Derek Cianfrance

The Place Beyond The Pines is an atmospheric, gripping, emotional drama. The film is sliced into three very distinct acts. Each act is unique and focuses on a different character. However all of the characters are intertwined and all of the conflict reverberates throughout the entire film.

The first act focuses on Luke (Gosling) who is a stunt cycle rider with a traveling fair. When the fair makes it annual trip Schenectady, NY Luke learns that he has a son. In an attempt to do the right thing he quits his job and decides to stay and try to have a relationship with him. When he teams up with a nefarious mechanic to rob banks things go south and the happy ending he was hoping for moves farther and farther from his grasp. Gosling's character is painted with a sympathetic but tragically flawed brush. Cianfrance and Gosling do a masterful job of emotionally tying us to him and his son immediately. We are invested in what is to become of these characters and it propels us into the rest of the film.

Cooper's Avery is an equally as engaging character and drives the narrative in the second act. Avery is a police officer who crosses paths with Luke briefly in the first act. The parallels between Avery and Jack become obvious when we learn he also has a one year old son, and is thrust into illegal activity. Although Avery's father is present, he has issues with him as well. Avery and Jack are a perfect juxtaposition and make the first two acts of this film completely engrossing. Like Luke in the first act, we are propelled into the next act when Avery's illegal activities come to a head and that story arc is complete.

In my opinion this film misfires a bit when we come to the final third. We are 15 years in the future. So the characters remain the same but are in much different circumstances. Where as the characters and plot points in the first two acts are messy and broad things tighten up considerably in the final act. This gives the film an uneven feel in addition to succumbing to some contrivances and manipulations.

The Place Beyond The Pines is the first really good film of 2013. There are problems in the final third, but there is so much more good than bad here that much of the issues can be somewhat overlooked if not forgiven. Cianfrance draws up many great, sympathetic characters in this film. There are really no weak links, but Gosling and Cooper's performances shine. Ray Liotta should be mentioned as well, he is perfectly cast and has some great moments despite his limited screen time. This is a film that I look forward to having many discussions about. The father-son themes are timeless and played out to great effect.