I had heard good things about this movie, but also heard that it was very heavy. I had put off watching it because I have to be in the right frame of mind for a movie like this. I wish I hadn't put it off as long as I did, because it was awesome.

The movie is split into two distinct halves, and each of those halves splits into smaller chunks. We meet Luke (Ryan Gosling), a carnival stunt biker who discovers he has a one-year-old child with a girl he figured was a one-night-stand (Eva Mendes). He wants to do right by her and the child, so he quits the carnival to stay in town and get a real job. Real jobs are hard to come by for carnies with neck tats, so he eventually falls into robbing banks. When one bank job goes bad, he gets involved in a police chase where Avery (Bradley Cooper) traps him in a house. It's hard to avoid spoilers, and this event happens in the middle of the movie so it's not a big crazy reveal at the end, so don't read these next few sentences if you want to be surprised:

{Luke is trapped upstairs, Avery gets into the house and clears it room by room. He enters the room Luke is in, sees him sitting on the ledge with a gun in his hand. Avery fires and hits Luke, Luke fires back and hits Avery's leg. Luke falls out the window, dead}

Avery is hailed as a hero cop, but gets pulled into some kind of cliched "dirty cop shenanigans" that he isn't entirely comfortable with. He learns, though, that it's better to shut up than to squeal.

Flash forward fifteen years: Avery is a politician, running for Congress. He's divorced, and his son (around 17 years old) comes to live with him. The son is a d-bag, a wannabe thug, into drugs and alcohol and gold necklaces and wife beaters. He befriends a loner at his new high school, and the two establish a quick but tense friendship. {Another spoiler alert: the loner is Luke's son (it wasn't a big shock, I saw it coming, but I guess it still counts as a spoiler, sorry)}.

This movie was heavy. The whole first half felt dirty, like a layer of grime covered everything. The carnival was greasy, the redneck garage where Luke works was dirty, the mechanic/ex-con who hires him as a mechanic then as a robber is scummy. Even Eva Mendes had a disheveled look. After the flash forward, though, everything cleaned up. Things were crisper, cleaner, a bit brighter, even if the subject matter stayed dark. Director Derek Cianfrance seemed to be highlighting how Avery was trying to portray a clean-cut political image despite the darker secrets.

Bradley Cooper was great, Eva Mendes was solid, and I keep going back and forth on Ryan Gosling. There were just moments where it felt like he was trying too hard to not be a pretty boy, but it was balanced by moments that really reminded me of his character in "Drive", a movie I absolutely loved.

If you plan on watching this, just be prepared for some heavy stuff. The sins of the fathers are visited upon the sons, and it feels like the cycle will repeat long after the credits.

 

 

On the [Celluloid Hero] scale, "The Place Beyond The Pines" gets an 8 out of 10.