Toronto Film Fest: ‘Place Beyond the Pines’ Mixes Star Power With Storytelling

Of the movies up for acquisition at the Toronto Film Festival, there is probably none with as high-octane a cast as “A Place Beyond the Pines” starring Ryan Gosling and Brad Cooper

Of the movies up for acquisition at the Toronto International Film Festival, there may be none with as high-octane a cast as “The Place Beyond the Pines,” starring Ryan Gosling and Bradley Cooper.

The film sold Saturday to Focus Features.

"Pines" works mainly as an intelligently directed, newfangled take on a traditional bad-boy-meets-bad-cop crime thriller.

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Directed by Derek Cianfrance (“Blue Valentine”), “Pines” takes place in three distinct, consecutive but connected sections. It starts following the life of a fully tattooed and chain-smoking Luke (Gosling), a frustrated father who takes to bank-robbing to win back Romina (Eva Mendes) and their baby son.

The second section picks up as the first one ends, when Gosling holes himself up in a house after a robbery and is pursued by an overzealous cop, Avery (Cooper). Avery, too, has a baby son at home, and in the aftermath of a key encounter with Luke, becomes simultaneously a hero and a target in the corrupt police department.

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The final section comes 15 years later, as the sons of each man grow up. They becomes friends without knowing who the other’s father is.  

Gosling grabs the screen with much of the bottled intensity he demonstrated in “Drive” last year. Cooper – who lately seems ubiquitous on screen (and is also at the festival in “Silver Linings Playbook”) – is disarmingly low key as a cop who becomes a politician. Dane Dehaan and Emory Cohen play the sons who collide as teenagers.

Cianfrance told me that he and Gosling worked together on this story over the past five years, which explains how it got made so quickly after 2010's “Blue Valentine,” a seven-year effort. And the director makes one particularly daring choice with his narrative, which I won’t reveal here.

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Produced by Jamie Patricof and Lynette Howell for $15 million, “Pines” is the kind of movie that Hollywood is rarely making anymore. Or at least it is making independently and waiting for studios to buy after it is done. In this case, several studios have actively shown interest and media reports suggested that Focus Features may be close to nailing down a deal.

If several critics grumbled that the film is too long – and yes, it is – it can be trimmed without losing the momentum of the three-part narrative.

A number of other high profile films in the festival are available for acquisition, including “What Maisie Knew,” starring Julianne Moore and Steve Coogan; Joss Whedon’s “Much Ado About Nothing,” and “Imogene,” starring Kristen Wiig and Annette Bening, a comedy about a playwright who fakes her own suicide.