The Place Beyond the Pines (R) (140 min.) — Two of Hollywood's sexiest men, Ryan Gosling and Bradley Cooper, want and deserve recognition as more than just pretty faces and abs. It won't be surprising if their fans wander into The Place Beyond the Pines expecting more crazy stupid love with silver linings. Or if they leave with new appreciation for these risk-rewarding actors who just happen to be handsome.
Director and co-writer Derek Cianfrance, who previously directed Gosling in 2010's searing Blue Valentine, casts both against type in a somber, cumulative drama of fathers' sins visited upon their sons. It's a story languorously told in three chapters, the first two in the late 1980s and the third 15 years later. Each could be a movie unto themselves. Together they prove Cianfrance to be an effectively unobtrusive storyteller, crafting without artifice what book critics would call a page turner.
Gosling anchors the first part as Luke, a motorcycle daredevil in a traveling carnival whose one-night stand a year ago in Schenectady, N.Y., resulted in a child. The knowledge changes Luke, makes him want to settle down with the mother Romina (Eva Mendes), who is securely with a new man. Luke's desire to be a good provider leads to robbing banks and an encounter with a police officer leading into part two.
The cop is Avery (Cooper), also a new father whose wife (Rose Byrne) doesn't like his choice of risky career. Avery's run-in with Luke will send several lives spiraling in different directions, even when the two men's sons reach high school and have conflict of their own. The Place Beyond the Pines is an engrossing story of consequences thrust upon people, stemming from fateful twists no one saw coming.
Cianfrance draws wonderfully understated performances from everyone in the cast. Gosling's and Cooper's aren't surprising to anyone paying attention to their outside studio hits. Mendes, Ray Liotta as a corrupt detective and Harris Yulin as Avery's father are better than they've been in years. The Place Beyond the Pines has an unpretentious power that sneaks up on viewers; it's over before you realize it's one of the year's finer films so far. A-
Steve Persall, Times movie critic