The Place Beyond the Pines Is not what I was expecting. I assumed from all the ‘Ryan Gosling heavy’ advertising that it would be all about the too-hot-for-words Hollywood heart throb and leave little room for anyone else. And I was extremely excited about this. But while it’s not what I imagined I actually think this is better that what I’d been hoping for.
The Place Beyond the Pines opens with Gosling, a touring stunt motorcyclist performing in Schenectady who days before leaving town discovers he has a son. Choosing to stick around and be part of his kid’s life Luke (Gosling) attempts to win back his baby momma Romina (Eva Mendez) by proving he can support and provide for his family, leading to his involvement in a series of bank robberies. Queue Bradley Coopers heroic cop character Avery. This is what surprised me. While it’s all about Goslings character and is his story to start, the moment Cooper steps in (which is pretty far in to it) the focus shifts creating two separate stories linked by one brief encounter that changes both their lives forever. And if I’m being honest, while I was more interested in the Luke story and as usual found Gosling charismatic, engaging and fascinating to watch, it’s Bradley Cooper who steals the film with his performance. I haven’t always been a big Cooper fan, not that I’m a huge fan now but my opinion of him has changed. Until late there’s no denying his films or rather the characters he plays in them are all pretty samey and unremarkable. But he surprised me in Silver Linings Playbook and again in The Place Beyond the Pines, taking on roles that are more than arm candy to leading ladies (Case 39, All About Steve), the jackass (Wedding Crashers, He’s Just not that Into You), and comedic relief roles (The Hangover, Failure to Launch, Yes Man, ….), he’s finally getting to show off a little and he’s not half bad. From their brief moment together Cooper takes the acting baton from Gosling and carries it through almost to the end, or until the third story between his son AJ (Emory Cohen) and Luke’s son Jason (Dane DeHaan). It’s no wonder the film is so long (running time 140 minutes). I’ve seen films of this length that accomplish only a fraction of what The Place Beyond the Pines does and feel as though they drag on forever where as you don’t notice the length here. It doesn’t try and do too much either, but gives you a sense of, and enough exposition of our leading characters to engage and get attached to them so that it’s almost impossible to pick a side in the end. It’s a character driven piece, delivered with gritty realism as should be expected from director Derek Cianfrance whose last film was the incredibly raw and depressing Blue Valentine. There’s realness to it, actions seem improvised and unrehearsed which is something I love to see in cinema. It’s why I’m such a fan of Australian cinema that does naturalism so well (Animal Kingdom, Black Water, and Snowtown are great films for this, Snowtown painfully so).
It’s a brilliant film on all counts, aesthetically beautiful, an impressive cast (though Emory Cohen who plays AJ was slightly…..OK VERY annoying), intelligent well written script, great soundtrack that is at times incredibly moving, and is one of the best structured and well-directed films I’ve seen in a while. It’s a great piece of film making and should put Derek Cianfrance on your list of directors to pay attention to.