‘The Place Beyond The Pines’ Presents A Sweeping Story Of Crime, Corruption, And Motorcycles! (Movie Review)

place beyond the pines whysoblu thumbI recently watched Blue Valentine for the first time.  This was the 2010 anti-romance/drama that first brought together writer/director Derek Cianfrance and star Ryan Gosling.  There was a lot of good to be found in that film, particularly from co-star Michelle Williams, but the film was not without its issues.  That said, Cianfrance left a good impression of a director I was curious about seeing more from.   The Place Beyond the Pines is Cianfrance’s follow-up effort to Blue Valentine, and it really feels like a fantastic accomplishment from a director who is even more confident in what he can bring to the screen.  It is a film that has an ambitious story to tell and it does so with enough confidence to unfold slowly, mixing in high moments of tension and emotion.  Add to that some truly great performances from some of the film’s key players and you have what is already one of the great dramas of 2013.

Robin:  If you ride like lightning, you’re gonna crash like thunder.

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There are three parts to this story, and while I think actually watching the film and observing how it unfolds is more important than already knowing the scenario, I will tread lightly on spoiling the story in this brief plot synopsis.  Ryan Gosling plays Luke, a motorcycle stuntman that travels with a carnival from town to town.  The latest stop finds Luke back in Schenectady, New York, where he meets up with a former lover, Romina (Eva  Mendes), who, unbeknownst to Luke, gave birth to his son.  Because of this, Luke quits the carnival and decides to help take care of his son the only way he knows how, by robbing banks.  The focus of the story eventually switches over to police officer Avery Cross (Bradley Cooper), a good man, soon to be regarded as a hero, only to face off against a police department ravaged with corruption.  Eventually the story takes a leap forward in time and settles on the lives of two high school boys who are faced with their inherited legacy catching up to them.

Maybe ‘epic’ is not the right word to associate with this film, but The Place Beyond the Pines certainly has a sprawling story that serves just as much as a weighty drama as it does a Greek tragedy.  It tells three short stories, each of which play off each other quite well, as they echo various aspects of what occurs in the future or in the past.  The first story may set the stage for things to come, but the final story provides a clear reflection on how events from the past end up carrying over to the next generation.  Not to take away from the second story either, as it provides an interesting turn, based on where the first story ends and where things go from there.  This structure made for an interesting way to accept these stories, which could work as short films in and of themselves.  Having the added notion that the stories build off of each other and eventually lead to a fairly emotional climax provides weightiness to the narrative overall, which had a resonating effect on me, rather than one that suggests self-importance.  I am aware others walked away with that feeling, but I was wrapped up in the film’s storytelling, with little to distract me from the film’s overall strength.

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In the ‘Luke’ section of the film, Gosling is electric in another role that involves him playing a quiet, but highly emotional character.  We are told little about who he is or where he came from, but even as he makes questionable decisions for the sake of a child he only just recently found out about, it is easy to see his side of things.  Add on to that a few tense bank robbery sequences that allow Gosling to really turn up his intensity and are shot with a skilled eye to convey the frantic nature of the situation, and understanding him becomes even clearer.  Luke is a person who has faced turmoil in his life and is not unfamiliar with using violence, but is not the guy that wants to do those things; he just does not know how to utilize other options.  Being a professional motorcycle rider is quite fitting, as he has most likely driven away from things all his life, which makes the shakeup in his life, where he must now care for a child, all the more interesting.  Gosling excels in bringing out all of these aspects.

At the same time, Cooper’s portion of the film finds him performing just as effectively.  While I found him very solid in Silver Linings Playbook, given that he dropped a lot of what makes him such a familiar, handsome face and turned in a strong acting performance, I found him to be even more compelling in this film.  The Place Beyond the Pines has Cooper really considering what his actions have led him to, throughout the film.  From the outset, it is clear that he is a man who is trying to do the right thing.  He is clearly ambitious, as we learn more of his intentions as the film goes on, but we also have a lingering thought in regards to what it is that brought him to a certain level in the eyes of other police officers and himself, before the film jumps further ahead in time.  When the film does reach a specific period in his life, Cooper has a very good opportunity to display a variety of appearances to others and, again, to himself, with regards to what it is that got him there.  It is another fine turn from Cooper, who is really winning me over with his choices lately.

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There are other key performances as well, with Ray Liotta, Ben Mendelsohn, Eva Mendes, and Rose Byrne all delivering solid work, even though Byrne is probably given the least to do here (though I suspect a lot of her work may have been cut for time).  The last character I want to focus on, however, is Dane DeHaan as Jason.   DeHaan, who I have seen turn in great work in a number of other recent films, such as Chronicle and Lawless, does a very good job in what is essentially the weakest segment of the film.  While I would say the final segment is not as strong as those that preceded it, I do enjoy what the film was going for in having the main characters that are featured within it.  DeHaan, as Jason, nails the concept of being an adolescent boy with mixed feelings in regards to where he has come from, given that he is in the dark on some key factors.  Emory Cohen as AJ, the other boy in this segment is a little less successful, mainly because the film feels a bit too obvious in making him such a nuisance of a character, but it all seems worth it, once the film reaches its endgame.

Having a film that is so reliant on immersive characterization, it did not escape me that Derek Cianfrance was very successful in his overall direction of the film.  The Place Beyond the Pines is certainly a focused and deliberately-paced picture, with a two hour-plus running time that may be a bit much overall, but Cianfrance fills his frame with atmosphere and provides the right tone for the film throughout.  The more chaotic nature of the first story is balanced by the slower rhythms and appropriately low-key nature of the stories that follow.  The use of a small town like Schenectady makes for a film that is able to have you understand why this film has stakes that are bigger in regards to the characters, as opposed to something much grander in nature.  Little touches throughout and the way certain characters are put on display easily communicate how assured Cianfrance is his work on this film.

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The Place Beyond the Pines is a heavy film to take in, but one that is very exciting and full of dramatic complexity.  It has ambitions that attempt to get into what places some will go to find how they can fit into the idea of the American dream.  The film also allows us to explore the notion of fathers providing for their sons and what it is for the sons to inherit aspects of their fathers in their lives over time.  The film is benefited further by some great performances and a director who has equipped himself well with the crew he needed to make such a compelling story work great on screen.

Luke:  Tell him it’s from me.  I’m still his father, I can give him stuff.

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Aaron is a writer/reviewer for WhySoBlu.com.  Follow him on Twitter @AaronsPS3.
He also co-hosts a podcast,
Out Now with Aaron and Abe, available via iTunes or at HHWLOD.com.


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