The opening shot of "The Place Beyond the Pines" shows us a man with beach-blonde hair and a torso covered in tattoos- he's Billy Idol minus the riches and English accent. The camera follows him in a long tracking shot that is reminiscent of Martin Scorsese's stylings, to his job as a motorcycle stunt rider. In this moment, we find that this man is Ryan Gosling, nearly unrecognizable when compared to his famous clean-cut looks.
His name is Luke Glanton. He travels around with the state fair, and is back in Altamont, New York, where, about a year ago, he had a brief fling with sultry waitress Romina (Eva Mendes). Luke decides the visit her, where he finds out that she has an infant son that belongs to him. He quits his job to provide for her and his son, and decides that the only way to make enough money is to rob banks. He has a briefly successful run, but after one goes wrong, he is killed in a shootout by rookie cop Avery Cross (Bradley Cooper).
The film shifts focus to Avery, who is then labeled a hero. We get a glimpse at his exploits as he tries to take down the corrupt police station in which he works, and then, the film shifts once again to 15 years later, where Avery is running for public office and now Luke and Avery's sons Jason (Dane DeHaan) and AJ (Emory Cohen) are dealing with their own problems, that eerily mirror their fathers.
"The Place Beyond the Pines" is certainly ambitious - told in three parts and slow-burning its way through the story in order to develop the characters, there is a lot to grasp. Derek Cianfrance may be a young filmmaker, but he already has the self-aware, confident filmmaking tendencies of masters far beyond his years. He clearly is going for the epically proportioned crime sagas of Francis Ford Coppola and Martin Scorsese, and while it may not be a perfect film, "The Place Beyond the Pines" shows us that a legendary filmmaker may not be too far off in the distance.
The biggest problem with the film, however, is both its storyline and its length, which are so large in size and so crammed with ideas that the film sometimes loses itself. The jarring shifts between character focus isn't necessarily the problem - the problem is keeping the viewer's attention intact. At two-hours and 21 minutes long, it's as lengthy as the popcorn ready "Hunger Games" films, which sustains our attention simply because there is always something going on. With "The Place Beyond the Pines", the third part itself pales in comparison to the masterful first two, to the point in which the flawlessness set beforehand is marred drastically.
Yet, the performances by the phenomenal cast remain untouched, despite the film's drawbacks. Gosling is captivating as Luke - beneath the layers of ink and hair dye, you can see that, while he robs banks for a living, his conscience isn't numbed. Cooper, who is turning his career from throwaway roles to fantastic ones, makes Avery the most compelling character in the movie. Living in a world of corruption and high-strung guilt, Avery easily could crumble, but Cooper makes him a protagonist worth fighting for. In the meantime, Mendes gives the finest performance of her career as the troubled Romina, and DeHaan stuns as Avery's messy son.
"The Place Beyond the Pines" sometimes is masterful, but sometimes is also in need of some work. But even with its flaws, Cianfrance is a director that already should be considered to be one of the best in modern day cinema.