The Place Beyond The Pines
Directed by Derek Cianfrance
Written by Derek Cianfrance & Ben Coccio
Derek Cianfrance's second directorial feature The Place Beyond the Pines is an ambitious tale of fathers and sons, love and redemption and the choices we make that define our path in life. A film that is as lofty as its length, running around 140 minutes, but navigates the borders of what people can and will do to provide for their families, even if that involves travelling paths of robbery, corruption, violence and drugs. Cianfrance has crafted an almost masterpiece with outstanding performances, but the film slightly falters with lack of attention given to the matriarchs of the families, instead focusing primarily on the relationships decisions have on our lives.
Luke (Ryan Gosling) plays a motorcycle stunt driver at carnivals in Schenectady, New York when he learns that a waitress, with whom he had a fling with, Romina (Eva Mendes), has a one year-old son that belongs to Luke. He insists on taking care of the child by any means necessary which leads him to finding a job with Robin (Ben Mendelsohn), a mechanic who also has robbed banks. Luke gets greedy with his new illegal profession which leads to an intense confrontation with a young law-schooled cop Avery (Bradley Cooper). This confrontation leads the two sides on a crash course journey that lasts over fifteen years and the collision of morals and consequences of each character.
Cianfrance broke the film down into three parts. The first revolving around Luke, the second around Avery and the third taking place fifteen years later. This film is so ambitious that it is almost too ambitious. It is an ever encompassing tale that is grounded in equal parts of realism and cinematic beauty. Who actually knows if Luke would consistently get away with the earlier bank robberies and would Avery fight the fraternized system of police corruption, containing Ray Liotta in another scumbag police officer role, and survive in any way? It is a film that's setting of Schenectady feels a little dirty, with small town, chain smoking minimalism, where we see the impoverished, working class side and the more middle class, socially acceptable arena of life. The scenes with Robin and Luke at Robin's trailer park home exemplify a life of poverty in an honest, unflinching way.
The film felt honest in its approach of father and son dynamics where each father wanted to provide a sanctuary for their young sons. That bond is shown in depths Luke will go to provide financial support for his son and how Avery fights off violence, fear and police corruption to keep his son protected from a criminal-laden and politically corrupt world. Where it was lacking was in the attention needed to the mothers. Romina and Jennifer (Rose Byrne), who is Avery's wife, feel as if they were pushed aside to focus on the brooding, father-son side of life. That is the one thing that caused the film to feel as if it missed its mark a bit, although Eva Mendes gives the best performance of her career. It needed that touch of grace to counter the physical, unnerving life of crime, corruption and defense that is portrayed throughout the majority of the film.
The film is a crime epic that spans multiple generations and contains some of the finest acting of film I have seen this year. Ryan Gosling is fully tattooed and grimy, wearing cut-off Metallica shirts, which is cinematic foreshadowing in itself. It is a raw, uncompromising performance that is reminiscent of his touching, haunting work in Cianfrance's first directorial feature Blue Valentine. His character is a violent, chain-smoking thug that desperately wants to provide for his son. He is electrifying in this role and really continues to show his talents as one of the best actors in the business.
Bradley Cooper shows great range and growth, along with is almost perfect work in David O. Russell's Silver Linings Playbook, as the young ambitious cop Avery. He shows passion, concern and towards the end, love with a sense of irony and self preservation. The real star of the film though is Dane DeHaan who plays a teenager, I won't delve too much into who he is so not to ruin some of the plot, and shows such beautiful, heartbreaking compassion and resolve that aids in bringing the story full circle.
The Place Beyond the Pines is an artful film with beautiful cinematography from Sean Bobbit (Shame) and an absolute haunting, atmospheric score from composer Mike Patton. There is a scene in the final act where Dane DeHaan's character is riding a bike down a country road, of course with no cars in sight, and the camera is following him from above with the score for the film playing that just gave me chills. The music blended and gave a chilling warning of acts to come that, along with Cianfrance's beautiful direction and writing, shows he is a truly talented filmmaker.
The film is a towering achievement of father and sons, cigarettes, violence and decisions. Cianfance is a true talent and has grown immensely since his film Blue Valentine with this crime epic. The film has its faults and maybe does not clearly state its true purpose other than telling a multi-generational story about redemption and the hardships of life, but is told with sophistication, honesty and cinematic allure. The Place Beyond the Pines is a film not be missed and Cianfrance is a director with a bright future.