At 2 hours and 20 minutes and structured like a triptych or perhaps a three-act play, "The Place Beyond the Pines" opens strong but starts to wear out its welcome by the end.
Not surprisingly, when Ryan Gosling disappears from the screen, some air goes out of the balloon, but Bradley Cooper and the underrated Ray Liotta make the second slice of the story compelling. The third, about characters fated to meet, is too meandering and dragged out.
A very blond Mr. Gosling plays Luke, a traveling motorcycle stunt performer -- his torso is inked with a hodgepodge of images, as if passport stamps, and his face has a small dagger and drop of blood tattoo ---- who discovers an affair with a waitress (Eva Mendes) produced a son. She's moved on, but Luke's plan to provide for his family by robbing banks yields benefits before turning tragic.
This is where Mr. Cooper, a lawyer turned rookie cop in Schenectady, N.Y., enters the picture, about 50 minutes in. Still to come are another set of characters who bring together the themes of fathers (absent, powerful, biological, adoptive) and sons, legacies, crime and punishment and masculine identity or reinvention.
Director Derek Cianfrance and Mr. Gosling collaborated on "Blue Valentine," a story exploring a relationship that begins with one partner thunderstruck -- love at first sight -- and ends in frustration, fisticuffs and tears. It earned co-star Michelle Williams an Oscar nomination but, by its nature, was more streamlined.
Co-written by Mr. Cianfrance, "Place Beyond the Pines" traffics in convenient coincidences and repeated ethical tests. Mr. Gosling is the standout, and when a literal and figurative snapshot of happiness is shown, we remember how much we miss him, no matter his many problems and flaws.
Rated R for language throughout, some violence, teen drug and alcohol use, and a sexual reference. Opens today at AMC-Loews, Manor and Cinemark Robinson.
Telling someone he is too smart for his own good seems like the kindest cut of all. But that applies to this Danny Boyle twisty-turny puzzle dealing with an art heist, hypnotherapy and questions about memory, identity and obsession.
It's too clever by half although it takes advantage of Scottish actor James McAvoy's mesmerizing blue eyes as he plays Simon, a fine art auctioneer in London who witnesses the theft of a $27.5 million Goya painting. The auction house has procedures for what to do in such events -- "Remember, do not be a hero. No piece of art is worth a human life" -- and Simon appears to follow the safeguards but gets bonked on the head, producing amnesia about where he hid the canvas.
That doesn't go over well with the caper gang leader, Franck (Vincent Cassel), who suggests Simon see a hypnotherapist, which leads him to Elizabeth (Rosario Dawson). Turns out he's among the 5 percent of the population who are highly suggestible to hypnosis, and he and we tumble into a world where we're not always sure if we're witnessing present-day life, memories, dreams or something hypnotically hinky.
The less you know about "Trance" the better, but it's likely you will fall under its spell or simply be infuriated by it. Either way, take its R rating for graphic nudity and other content seriously and know that it's not end-of-year awards bait (as with Mr. Boyle's "Slumdog Millionaire" or "127 Hours") but more of a down-and-dirty spring fling.
R for sexual content, graphic nudity, violence, some grisly images and language. Opens today at AMC-Loews, Manor in Squirrel Hill and Cinemark Robinson.
When you're just 14 years old, movies such as "Super 8" and "Ginger & Rosa" are period pieces.
In the former, Elle Fanning played a girl living with her troubled father in an Ohio steel town in 1979. In the latter, which returns today after two previews during the Three Rivers Film Festival, she's Ginger, a red-haired teen in 1962 London.
She becomes obsessed with the possibility of a nuclear holocaust, even as her home life is imploding. All of Ginger's safe harbors -- best friend Rosa (Alice Englert) and parents (Christina Hendricks and Alessandro Nivola) -- are part of the personal powder keg about to blow.
Ginger and Rosa have been linked since birth; both were born on the day Hiroshima was bombed. They ditch school, smoke cigarettes, hitchhike with abandon, practice and then employ their kissing skills, join the ban the bomb movement and rebel against their parents.
In Ginger's case, that means going to church to see what it is like, even as her free-thinking dad labels the notion of life after death a superstition. "The only life is the one we have now, which is why we must seize it." When he practices what he preaches, the consequences are shattering.
Writer-director Sally Potter ("Orlando") vividly recalls being 13 at the time of the Cuban missile crisis, and she channels that welter of emotions here. She explores friendship and betrayal, freedom and responsibility, the politics of love and the love of politics and how we're all connected to historic events on the world stage.
Elle, who was just 13 when the movie was shot, is a natural at conveying conviction, giddiness, heartbreak or hysteria, often accompanied by tears. She gives a fearless, exceptional performance in a movie that drops in characters played by Annette Bening, Timothy Spall and Oliver Platt without adequately exploring them.
In the end, it feels somewhat heavy-handed and unfinished. Or maybe it would work better as a stage play where killing the lights and lowering the curtain would provide a dramatic punctuation point rather than leaving a trail of thorny questions for filmgoers.
PG-13 for mature disturbing thematic material involving teen choices in sexuality, drinking, smoking, and for language. Opens today at the Oaks and Regent Square theaters.
To East London teenager Mo, Rashid is the cool, perfect older brother who slips money into their mother's wallet, sneaks his girlfriend into the bottom bunk bed, dreams of financing Mo's university education and belongs to the gang with the DMG (drugs, money, guns) tattoos and code.
When a gang fight leaves one of Rashid's friends dead in the middle of the street -- he and a dog have been stabbed to death, making for a macabre but strikingly posed and photographed image -- Rashid thirsts for revenge. After all, he is reminded if he doesn't kill the leader of the opposing gang, "We lose and they win."
Later, after getting a job with a photographer (Said Taghmaoui) who counsels, "The strong man is the one who can control himself when he's angry," Rashid wants to quit the gang. At the same time, though, Mo happily is being pulled into its seductive web, as questions about loyalty and sexual orientation complicate this subculture.
Director-writer Sally El Hosaini, whose father is Egyptian and mother Welsh, is blessed with James Floyd as the charismatic Rashid and Fady Elsayed as shy, sweet Mo, who is tormented by something he sees but does not understand.
Ms. El Hosaini brings a real sense of empathy to her characters, sons of an Egyptian-born bus driver who clearly springs from another time and place. As the judges said when she won the best British newcomer award at the London Film Festival, her writing and direction display maturity -- and assurance -- while incorporating lyricism and tenderness into the story of outsiders finding their way in the world.
No MPAA rating but R in nature. Opens today at the Harris Theater, Downtown.