The Place Beyond the Pines

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You’re not going to learn it from the movie itself, but the poetic title of Derek Cianfrance’s latest is a translation of Schenectady, the Mohawk-derived name for the upstate New York town that serves as the film’s setting. It’s also a clue: for what’s basically a grubby sins-of-the-father story, the mood here is grander than expected – mythic, portentous and likeably heavy, even in its overreach. We start in Dardenne Brothers territory as a mysterious, tattooed stunt biker from the carnival (Ryan Gosling) awakens to his status as a father, bailing on the circus to provide for his infant son by robbing banks. We’re too close to Drive to see this performance as anything out of the ordinary, but when Suicide’s Che churns to life on the soundtrack and Gosling peels out, there are thrills galore.

Cianfrance has too much love for the blonde anti-hero to judge him all that harshly. But just as the biker is cornered by the law, we’re asked to switch allegiance as the hero cop, Avery (Bradley Cooper), enters the tale, also a young parent surrounded by bad influences. In his case, it’s a corrupt precinct dominated by a man named Deluca (the ever-menacing Ray Liotta). The shift feels like whiplash – and another one’s in store, as we jump 15 years ahead to see the fates of the two kids. There’s a distinct feeling that the movie is trapped in its own pop psychology. Yet after the actor-centric fireworks of Cianfrance’s Blue Valentine, it’s very impressive to see him going after a wider sociopolitical scope, albeit one that would have been better served by a less repetitive structure. Even if the place beyond the pines is just Schenectady, Cianfrance’s ambition leads to higher ground. Joshua Rothkopf

Dir Derek Cianfrance Category IIB, 140 mins, opens on Thu Aug 15

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