THE PLACE BEYOND THE PINES Review

From its extended opening shot that is captured in one take it is clear The Place Beyond the Pines is looking for something extra, something more than what most films shoot for. As the follow-up to Derek Cianfrance's 2010 critical success, Blue Valentine, this film also serves as a very serious, very woeful piece that expands on the world around the people involved in the story rather than being as focused as his previous film. This is still an examination of human relationships in many ways, but instead of being purely based around the singular subject of a relationship and how something as personal as that falls apart when placed on the shoulders of a particular couple The Place Beyond the Pines is a sprawling epic, a generational story that touches on the legacy you leave and ultimately have limited control over. I was a fan of Blue Valentine and the way Cianfrance allowed his characters to take the story wherever felt natural, but I've become an even bigger fan with this film as the director shows a consistency in his style and ability to tell a powerful story while being diverse enough to approach it from a different angle. I knew I was looking forward to this film simply due to the fact it was Cianfrance's follow-up and he would likely get a little more support in making the film, but also because he was re-teaming with Ryan Gosling while enlisting the only other actor that could equal Gosling's stature at the moment with Bradley Cooper. There is a fantastic supporting cast here as well, but to see two popular poster boy actors with the ability and talent to pull off what they have done here gives a refreshing sense of optimism about where the movies are heading. The Place Beyond the Pines is a dour, brooding piece of work that will hit you in the gut and keep you yearning for more. It is close to a masterwork, but falls just short one time too many.

Ryan Gosling, Anthony Pizza, and Eva Mendes try to become a family in The Place Beyond the Pines.
Going into the film I wish I'd known less about it, as the story is front and center here. Yes, the characters are clearly important and the mood and setting (the location of the film is Schenectady which means the place beyond the pines in Iriquois), but the unorthodox approach and structure of the film make the story feel all the more fresh if not completely appealing (though I'm sure some might argue the opposite). The film first follows Gosling's Luke Glanton who is a motorcycle daredevil of sorts in a traveling carnival. When the show comes to Schenectady Luke meets up with Romina (Eva Mendes) a woman he had a fling with the last time he came to town and learns he has a one year-old baby boy. With a commendable spirit Luke wants to stay around and provide for his son. He gets a job at a local car shop run by the always welcome Ben Mendelsohn, but the minimum wage isn't cutting it so he resorts to robbing banks. Naturally, this all goes well for a period of time before Luke gets too greedy and too anxious leading to a pivotal moment in his life where he crosses paths with rookie police officer, Avery Cross (Cooper). The story shifts here to focus on Cooper's character as he's the son of a judge who has a law degree and has passed the bar exam but chooses to be a cop so he might confront justice on the front lines. It becomes clear the meeting of these two men was some kind of destiny; so much so there is almost something mythical about it and about them, especially Gosling's Luke. Avery too has a young son though his marriage to his wife (Rose Byrne) seems rather rocky. This only intensifies when he becomes entangled in some corrupt police work that features Ray Liotta doing familiar but solid work as he did in Killing Them Softly. The films third act serves to re-enforce the themes of legacy and destiny as it illustrates the one moment in these two mens lives that serves as a defining moment that will forever serve as a kind of concrete facet of who they are. It is a fascinating structure to watch be built up, only to have it slightly stall in its conclusion.

Despite this slight hiccup that comes as the film tries to find its footing near the end the overall affect of the film is not lost. This one, certainly petty, issue I'd even say is handled better than I expected it to be when it continued on after there were several moments I expected the credits to begin to roll. At almost two and half hours the film is obviously long, but until those last few scenes never does it feel bloated or out of hand and never does it bore. This is certainly due to the fine eye both Cianfrance has as a writer and how well that transitions to his work with the editor. When crafting such a massive story that not only spans time, but generations it would be very easy to go off on different paths and get too involved in storylines that don't pertain to the central plot and theme you might be trying to get across. Cianfrance is able to keep his film on track and never allows it lose its focus which in turn makes us as an audience member willing to sit through a two hour plus feature without wanting to move from our seats. This is certainly aided by other solid aspects of the film. The wonderful score by Mike Patton is perfectly on par with the brooding tone of the material and the lush cinematography from Sean Bobbitt (Shame) creates a bigness to the world of this run down metropolitan area that meshes with the grand themes at play. The world is so critical to who these characters are and though it seems most if not all of this was shot on location Bobbit frames the world with such a vivid and kinetic eye it is as if he's forcing us to watch these people despite the fact their actions lend to a sense of impending doom. As for the performances bringing us these people Gosling continues his hot streak by being the most magnetic one on the screen as his attitude is personified by how he rides. Cooper continues to prove he too is more than just a pretty face as he wrestles with a broken conscious that will forever torment him. Both of these characters, despite us never getting to know them extremely well, succeed in implying the notions and internal emotions that the story is attempting to convey.

Avery Cross (Bradley Cooper) is a rookie cop on the rise.
With that, Place Beyond the Pines reaches that other level, that something more it inherently always needed to get to. There was naturally a pretty high level of expectation here with the credentials this film had going for it, but despite Gosling again playing a daredevil driver and pairing with Cooper I never expected their collaboration to reach the artistic and emotional depths that this film dives into. It is ultimately a film that tries to, and for a good portion of the film, succeeds in summing up what it means to leave a legacy and how those moments that will be remembered as ones heritage come about and play out in every day life. It is a story that attempts to humanize something that will come to only be thought of as myth. Certainly, the task of wanting to tell a story that touches on things such as the passing of burdens and expectations from fathers to sons would come as a daunting task, but the fact a young filmmaker such as Cianfrance would attempt this type of story and in an unconventional fashion is something to be applauded even if it doesn't always get everything right or falls short in certain areas. Though my biggest problem with the film is the trepidation that comes into play near the end, I can understand where some viewers will have issues throughout. Whether it be that they want more from certain players in the game or the fact that they seemingly tried to do too much in the too little time, I'm convinced that with the format of a feature film some factors had to be short changed for the overall experience to drive home those well thought out reflections on the characters decisions as well as their repercussions. Place Beyond the Pines breaks the genre barriers and becomes a more haunting, tragic film than anything I've seen in recent memory and cannot wait to experience again on repeat viewings.