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"The Place Beyond the Pines" is a dark, sprawling drama - carefully observed with emotions that run deep.
It's a movie in three acts.
The first finds Ryan Gosling as a motorcycle stunt rider in a traveling carnival, who learns he fathered a son with Eva Mendez. Clueless and desperate, Gosling turns to a life of crime robbing banks to support the family he hopes to have.
Act two centers on Bradley Cooper as a rookie cop in a corrupt department. He's isolated from his wife and son - a slave and a prisoner in his work, and haunted by what some call a heroic action on the job.
The third act follows to high school friends on a collision course with secrets from their past.
How these three acts and all of these characters intersect, I won't spoil here, but even the contrivances and coincidences are handled gracefully. The movie is directed and co-written by Derek Cianfrance, who's first movie was the scorching "Blue Valentine" with Gosling and Michele Williams about a troubled married couple. "Pines" is also a movie about family - how sins of the fathers are echoed in their sons.
It's relentlessly riveting, with compelling performances all around. Gosling and Cooper are especially strong as good men forced into being morally compromised.
I also love the gritty cinematography, hand-held camera work, and excellent music choices. The movie plays like a really good book, and there's not a wasted chapter even though the movie's resolution isn't entirely satisfying.
The Place Beyond the Pines is easily one of the year's best so far.
EPPLER'S RATING: * * * *
Out of five stars