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Originally published Thursday, April 4, 2013 at 3:00 PM

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‘The Place Beyond the Pines’: a raw look at fathers and sons

“The Place Beyond the Pines” stars Ryan Gosling and Bradley Cooper as a striking pair of opposites, writes reviewer Moira Macdonald.

Seattle Times movie critic

Movie Review 3 stars

‘The Place Beyond the Pines,’ with Ryan Gosling, Bradley Cooper, Eva Mendes, Ray Liotta, Rose Byrne, Mahershala Ali, Dane DeHaan, Emory Cohen, Ben Mendelsohn. Directed by Derek Cianfrance, from a screenplay by Cianfrance, Ben Coccio and Darius Marder. 141 minutes. Rated R for language throughout, some violence, teen drug and alcohol use and a sexual reference. Harvard Exit, Lincoln Square.

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Nice to have a movie about fathers and sons, for a change, as long as its not... MORE
Gosling is so wooden he makes Kevin Kostner look dynamic. MORE
Oh look, another bad boys on bikes movie. MORE

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Derek Cianfrance’s last film, “Blue Valentine,” held a camera close to the decaying marriage of a young couple (Ryan Gosling, Michelle Williams), letting us watch love as it faded away like late-day sunshine. It was a small but ambitious film, told with uncanny honesty; now he’s back with the more sprawling “The Place Beyond the Pines,” which follows two fathers and two sons over several decades. It’s not quite as effective a film — it’s a bit overlong, and the second generation isn’t as fascinating as the first — but it has the same rawness, the sense of life being lived before our eyes.

The fathers in “The Place Beyond the Pines” are two very different men in Schenectady, N.Y.: Luke (Gosling), who’s a motorcycle stunt rider in a traveling carnival (its cheap sparkle lights up the movie’s opening minutes), and Avery (Bradley Cooper), a straight-arrow cop with a wife (Rose Byrne) and young son. Luke, re-connecting with his ex-girlfriend Romina (Eva Mendes), is surprised to learn that he has an infant son named Jason, and that Romina has a new boyfriend (Mahershala Ali) and has moved on. Trying to provide for his child and win Romina back, Luke embarks on a series of bank robberies — which brings him into the orbit of Avery, dangerously so. Years pass, and the boys grow up, but the legacy of their fathers remains with them.

Gosling and Cooper, though they have little screen time together, are a fascinating pair of opposites: Gosling, with his slightly deranged grin, is all barely controlled wildness (you’re never quite sure just what Luke might say or do); Cooper wonderfully plays a man who seems carefully rehearsed for life, uncomfortable with praise but unable to say what he thinks.

The film’s first two-thirds, focusing on these two men, are fascinating, with Cianfrance as at home staging a car chase as an intimate scene between two people who may or may not love each other anymore. (The boyfriend, watching closely, says, “How long you in town?” to Luke; Ali puts an entire history into those five words.) Vivid details pile up, captured with a handheld camera that won’t let us look away: Luke sitting in the back row of a church, an awkward spectator at his child’s baptism; the way Luke’s partner in crime (Ben Mendelsohn) seems to have cigarette smoke settled into the creases of his face; the careful mechanics of a bank robbery; the dangerous leer of a cop (Ray Liotta) who long ago lost his way.

“The Place Beyond the Pines” loses its own way a bit in the last half-hour; the story of the now-grown sons feels a little forced, though Emory Cohen is wonderfully sleazy as Avery’s son AJ. But it ends on the right note for this thoughtful and often powerful film: a journey west, a slow fade into a new beginning.

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or mmacdonald@seattletimes.com

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