The Place Beyond the Pines
Dir. Derek Cianfrance
Films used to take us to glamourous and exotic locations where the audience accompanied beautiful people to unknown places. They are still taking us to unknown places, but today this involves entering the underworld of suburbia, where people struggle to make ends meet and prove capable of the most destructive behaviour in doing so. Derek Cianfrance’s The Place Beyond the Pines is the latest film to do just that.
The title of the film is the English translation of Schenectady, the city in New York where the film is set. Luke (Ryan Gosling) is a young motorcycle stunt driver, who upon discovering he fathered a child tries to provide for it and his ex-lover Romina (Eva Mendes). He has the best intentions; unfortunately they lead him into bank-robbing, with terrible consequences for both his life and that of the fresh-out-of-law-school rookie cop Avery (Bradley Cooper).
The Place Beyond the Pines is comprised of three different acts: an epic covering the long legacy of sin. The first is nearly flawless, as the audience observes Luke struggling and trying to be good by the worst means possible. Ryan Gosling may seem to be being typecast as a suffering, mysterious man who is good at driving. However his character in the film is far from one-dimensional and he delivers an incredibly strong performance.
The second act stars Bradley Cooper’s Avery, who is dealing with corruption within the police system. This sudden shift into another story, about completely different people, feels very sudden; but Cianfrance’s risk-taking is admirable. This storyline was almost as intense as the first and Bradley Cooper delivered a very powerful performance.
The third act took a completely different direction than the previous two, occurring 15 years later, and foregrounds the friendship of Luke and Avery’s sons; exploring how inevitably we all become our parents. Though perhaps the weakest part of the film, this later story arc adds depth to the plot. However, the dialogue between the two teenagers wasn’t quite right – one would have expected, with such realistic parents, the boys would be more believable characters. Dane DeHaan playing Jason, Luke’s son, was convincing in his role as an outcast but AJ, Avery’s son, was miscast.
The cinematography, as in Cianfrance and Gosling’s previous feature Blue Valentine, was stunning; particularly showcasing the beautiful pine trees in upstate New York. The music scored by Mike Patton was simplistic but hit the right notes emphasising the emotional journey of the film.
The film leaves you pondering, wanting to know more about the characters if nothing else – even the more minor figures had interesting stories of their own. It was refreshing to see a film about real people trying to live their ordinary lives, not sugarcoated and not montaging through boring or difficult bits.
Real life doesn’t have a Hollywood ending: with this in mind the director provides the best ending possible for his characters, learning to live in the web of events that make up their lives.