Derek Cianfrance’s last film, ‘Blue Valentine’ was a raw, emotional collection of snapshots that documented the best and worst aspects of love and relationships. Cianfrance did so in a way that was so agonizingly real, that it showed us the happiest moments in a subtle and charming way, and the worst moments in such cruel and painful detail. With ‘The Place Beyond The Pines,’ he applies his style to a subject matter that is on a much larger scale, documenting events across various families across multiple generations.
‘The Place Beyond the Pines’ stars Ryan Gosling as Luke, a motorcycle stunt driver, who finds out that he is a father when he visits an old fling, Romina, played by Eva Mendes. In desperation to be in his sons life, he turns to robbing banks. He uses his motor cycle riding prowess as a method of escape, in an attempt to provide for Romina and his son Jason.
On the other side of the law, is Avery, played by Bradley Cooper. He is a cop, the son of a prominent political figure, who has a wonderful wife and child, but through his own demons and a variety of fateful decisions, he is left with choices that will set in motion events that will define his legacy.
The minute I saw the trailer for this film I knew that I had to see it. I loved ‘Blue Valentine,’ I’m a huge fan of Ryan Gosling, and Bradley Cooper was fantastic in ‘Silver Linings Playbook.’ Therefore I go into this review having seen a film that I had massive expectations for. This can be dangerous territory for any movie. Be certain though, the film did not disappoint me.
The first aspect of the film that needs to be mentioned is the acting, and the performances of the central characters. They are simply fantastic, from start to finish. Gosling is absolutely mesmerizing from the second the opening scene begins. His appearance is rough, covered in tattoos and wearing torn jeans and worn out t shirts. Within this appearance, he is able to convey the childlike charm and vulnerability we have seen in the past, and he creates a character who is so desperate to be a father and cares about nothing but his son. Almost too much. His desperation comes across to the audience in full force. Then there is Bradley Cooper, who does more than hold his own as well. While overshadowed a little by Gosling’s towering work, he is also fantastic as a cop who is torn apart by guilt, and pressure to do what pleases his family around him. Overall, what is so brilliant about these characters is that they are so complex, and we see them in moments that make us fall in love with them, but also when they are at their worst we begin to wonder if our feelings about them are correct.
The supporting actors are also fantastic, in particular Eva Mendes and Ben Mendelsohn, who plays Robin, the only friend Luke ever has. As the trailer and this review have suggested, this film takes place over multiple generations, and the younger actors make valiant efforts at holding up their end of the deal and for the most part they’re able to do so.
The presentation and delivery of the film are wonderful, with a perfect combination of long, sweeping scenery and close, personal moments. The dialogue is effective and poignant and some of the films best moments are the simple conversations between characters. The film isn’t overly heavy on dialogue though, and many things are said by actions rather than words, in particular during the early portion of the film.
In terms of action, while few and far between the bank robbery escape sequences are gritty and realistic, and the motorcycling is captured in such a way that we get a fantastic sense of speed and adrenaline from them. We also get suspense from some more subtle moments, in that we just don’t know what a particular character is going to do in certain situations. We have ideas and we know what we do or don’t want them to do, but the outcomes are held from us. Only momentarily however, as they bear down on us, unflinching and we are forced to watch them unfold from start to finish. Cianfrance doesn’t allow us any shortcuts, or moments of relaxation at these moments of the film, and this adds to it’s impact.
If I was to have one complaint of the film, it would be that while ‘Blue Valentine’ told it’s story in a way that presented what could be called small and subtle moments in all their glory, charm and eventual importance, ‘The Place Beyond The Pines’ is certainly a little more heavy handed throughout. ‘Valentine’ showed us moments that seem insignificant, but we enjoy them because we know that they are all things we’ve experienced, and held onto no matter how small. ‘Pines’ however, at times falls victim to the vast scale of it’s story. It is forced to jump from one huge, impactful moment to another, rarely able to pause and present us with something smaller to fill the gaps and put the grander moments in perspective. This is partially due to the fact that Cianfrance is trying to tell the story of two families over multiple generations, and there are so many key events and characters intertwined that the 140 minute running time just doesn’t give him enough time for the small things. Sometimes it is these smaller moments, that may not be necessary to the narrative, which help us attach to the characters and make everything we are seeing that much more real. Fortunately, the fantastic performances manage to grab us, and Gosling’s story gives us a little more subtlety than perhaps Cooper’s does.
The film also suffers from it’s own story in ways that I cannot necessarily disclose, in the interest of being spoiler free. However, there are times when you feel like you’ve seen the best the film has to offer already, long before it is over. However, this does not mean the rest of the film is not fantastic, it just suggests that certain moments are so brilliant that others just can’t keep up. Cianfrance is able to reign things in and round out a story which ends up being a haunting and heartfelt story of family and the legacies our decisions in life will leave for those who come after us. I have no doubt that this will be one of the best movies I see all year.