Director: Derek Cianfrance
Writers: Derek Cianfrance, Ben Coccio, Darius Marder
Stars: Ryan Gosling, Bradley Cooper, Eva Mendes, Dane DeHaan
Release date: March 29th, 2013
Distributor: Focus Features
Running time: 140 minutes
Best part: The Oscar-calibre performances.
Worst part: The final third.
A man’s greatest influence, and fear, should be his father. Many brilliant movies have bared their characters’ souls to convey this theme (the Godfather trilogy). In The Place Beyond the Pines, this moral is valuable to every character skulking through its grungy settings. The film is a touching and brutal look at how ideologies, passed down from father to son, can still be affected by everything and everyone around us.
This movie is unlike any other coming out in the next couple of months. It requires a significant amount of attention and thought. The film is a sprawling mix of three profound stories – looking at the cops and criminals of Middle America. The first tale is one of regret and alienation. Luke Glanton (Ryan Gosling), a stunt motorcyclist for a travelling carnival, finds out that his womanising ways have paid a price. His old flame Romina (Eva Mendes), to Glanton’s shock, has been looking after a child they conceived a year beforehand. Glanton quits the carnival to look after their child. Unable to find a job, he and Robin (Ben Mendelsohn) rob banks to provide for everyone involved. In the next story, heroic cop Avery Cross (Bradley Cooper) is struggling to cope with both his newfound notoriety and the force. Pressured by both shady cops, such as Deluca (Ray Liotta), and his wife Jennifer (Rose Byrne), Cross begins to manipulate people to elevate his reputation and rank. The third story is based on the consequences of Glanton and Cross’ actions. With Cross running for Attorney General, his troublesome son AJ (Emory Cohen) is doing him no favours. AJ’s friendship with similarly disturbed teen Jason (Dane DeHaan) could yield major problems.
Derek Cianfrance (Blue Valentine) is a talented independent film-maker. The Place Beyond the Pines is essentially three indie-dramas in one. The subject matter and tone are polarising aspects of this heartening crime-thriller. Throughout its exhaustive run-time, there are a plethora of emotions and decisions affecting each character. The story is divided in an intricate yet disjointed way. These stories divide the movie much like a play; containing their own messages and sub-plots which affect the course of nature. The power of masculinity is conveyed in light of the film’s many shocking developments. For example, the first third separates the men from the boys (figuratively and literally). However, I couldn’t detect a significant idea relevant to all three stories. Each third says something completely different to the others. By placing the most enthralling story in the first third, the following two seem uncomfortable and anti-climactic. It’s rare to see a film with such originality and yet so many noticeable influences. Glanton’s rotten journey contains shades of East of Eden and The Town. The second third contains elements of crime-thrillers like Copland and L.A. Confidential. While the final third is a disturbed concoction of Boyz n the Hood and Stand By Me. However, Cianfrance removes any trace of ‘Hollywood’ so as not to stick too close to those referential movies. Cianfrance’s style lifts what could’ve been a tired and convoluted drama. In fact, Cianfrance proves he can handle intense crime material similarly to James Mangold and Ben Affleck. The first act weaves itself seamlessly into the second. This is done via an eclectic motor-bike/car chase through the tired streets of Scynecdoche, New York. One unbroken, shaky-cam sequence provides a 90 second thrill-ride that tests the nerves of both the characters and audience.
“If you ride like lightning, you’re going to crash like thunder.” (Robin (Ben Mendelsohn), The Place Beyond the Pines).
Cianfrance brings an earthy aesthetic to this already grim spectacle. From the opening scene, the camera never stays still – capturing the inherent poignancy of this narrative. The opening is a seemingly unending shot of Glanton’s broad shoulders (Gosling certainly has an enviable physique). The shot illuminates his debilitating situation and existential angst. The editing has a poetic beauty that immerses you in these vastly different stories. While the soundtrack, by alternative singer-songwriter Mike Patton, lends the film a nuanced and affecting twang. However, Cianfrance’s style doesn’t specifically reside in the film’s aesthetic quality. He pulls back far enough to let the nuanced performances do the talking. Cianfrance significantly develops every important character. The top cop vs. greasy criminal conflict is presented as a gruelling fight for survival. Cianfrance puts a different spin on character types seen in movies like American Gangster and Mystic River. Despite the overt type-casting, the moody and breathtaking performances stand out. Gosling and Cooper strip away their ‘pretty-boy’ personas to deliver disgustingly affecting turns. Gosling brings brevity to his ‘loveable criminal’ role. Despite his many distracting tattoos, Glanton’s calm and creepy personality is mesmerising and strangely potent. Cooper proves that he is one of the best actors working today. His character’s journey is both frustrating and entertaining – allowing him to see the forest through the trees. Cross’ questionable methods convey a character who will stop at nothing to reap the rewards he was promised. Liotta, Byrne, Mendes, and Mendelsohn deliver the crackling dialogue in ways that lend dimension to their archetypal roles. Bruce Greenwood also delivers an engaging performance as the irritable police commissioner. Cohen, on the other hand, delivers an unconvincing Tom Hardy impression.
The Place Beyond the Pines is about the obvious and subtle differences between Gen-X and Gen-Y. The movie delivers a heartening and profound statement about how our actions in the past, present, and future may intertwine. With this tense and well-performed crime-thriller, Cianfrance proves he is one of the best indie-drama directors working today.