Film Review | The Place Beyond the Pines
Derek Cianfrance made a name for himself with 2010’s acclaimed romantic drama Blue Valentine. For his follow-up, the director has again opted for drama, this time of the familial kind, with his ambitious fourth feature The Place Beyond the Pines (2013), which makes its way to DVD stands this week.
We begin with a visually arresting long take that introduces us to Luke (Ryan Gosling), one part of a bike-riding circus act. He soon discovers that Romina (Eva Mendes) has had his baby after their one night stand the last time he was in town. Despite the fact that Romina is now with Kofi (Mahershala Ali), Luke feels entitled to his family and is desperate to provide for them. That desperation leads him to oddball mechanic Robin (another great supporting turn from Ben Mendelsohn), and soon the pair are robbing banks. This in turn puts Luke on the radar of local cop Avery Cross (Bradley Cooper).
It’s best not to know too much more than that going into The Place Beyond the Pines, as its unpredictable nature (at least for the first 2 acts) is one of its best features. Cianfrance has structured his film into three distinct episodes but even with this epic scope the theme of fatherhood is potently present throughout. Nowhere is this better conveyed than in Gosling’s complex and affecting arc; the man just wants to do right by his family, but is bound by his own hopelessness. The inner conflict of what lengths Luke will take to ensure his loved ones have a good life is made painfully evident, and Gosling plays him to perfection.
As the narrative baton is passed to Cooper’s character, the similarities and the differences between Avery and Luke come into focus. Avery is a far less sympathetic character than Luke, but it’s still clear what the driving force behind his actions are. After an Oscar nominated performance for Silver Linings Playbook, Cooper again raises his game with a layered performance, imbuing Avery with some much needed vulnerability. He is aided by some fantastic support from great character actors, including Bruce Greenwood and Ray Liotta as a corrupt cop.
After two emotionally powerful segments, the third act has it all to do. The neatness of the ending feels a tad contrived given how natural the previous hour or so of the film feels, and as such the transition is not as smooth this time round. Nonetheless, it thankfully proves to be a satisfying and cathartic finish thanks to another notable performance from Chronicle’s Dane DeHaan.
Magnificent and authentic performances, a gripping narrative and beautiful aesthetics makes The Place Beyond the Pines one of the few films this year that is worthy of the must-see tagline. With two excellent back-to-back features, Cianfrance is establishing himself as a director to watch.