* A shorter version of this review was originally posted at The Film Experience during TIFF12.
Derek Cianfrance's follow-up to his marriage drama Blue Valentine is a three-part genre piece about a stunt motorcycle rider (Ryan Gosling) who enters a life of crime when he realizes that a short fling in the past with Romina (Eva Mendes) has resulted in a son. When a young cop (Bradley Cooper) gets involved with his case, his criminal activities take an abrupt turn.
Fans of Cianfrance's previous film and also those who were expecting "Drive redux" based on the minimal promotional material available are in for a surprise, though in my case the surprise was a very happy one. This robust story of complex morality and corruption is told with sensitivity and gravitas. It is intermittently a white-knuckle action film that keeps you squirming on the edge of your seat and a dense drama of Shakespearean gravity that explores father-son relationships. Think of it as a crime thriller with the emotional punch of Blue Valentine.
Gosling gives yet another superbly intense performance, and Cooper and Dane DeHaan steal the show with their surprising depth. Ultimately, though, the star of the show is cinematographer Sean Bobbit, whose graceful work in the film's more intimate moments makes for an interesting juxtaposition to the Grand Prix-inspired dynamism of its action-packed first half.
Given the presence of two major Hollywood stars and the potential to market the hell out of the genre elements, The Place beyond the Pines could become a big financial hit, even though it might be too far out of the comfort zone of awards bodies for recognition.