Much like director Derek Cianfrance’s previous work, Blue Valentine, I would hazard to suggest that The Place Beyond the Pines is a film that has unfortunately gone unnoticed by many viewers. Those who did see it will know that it is a film with many elements at work; the surface excitement of bank robberies and motorcycle chases are balanced out by complex relationships and hard moral decisions. While the setting is bleak and devoid of hope, the cinematography is often beautiful, even if it is focusing on the despairingly banal New York state suburbia. All the characters are easy to sympathise with and engage the audience to the extent that it is often difficult to pick sides. It is through these contradictions of expectations that the film seems to weave into and claim the attention of the audience.
The story is effectively divided into three acts. It initially centres on Luke (Ryan Gosling), who as a low wage earning, chain smoking, heavily tattooed stunt driver, is coerced into robbing banks to provide for his new born child and the kid’s mother. Later, the film shifts focus to Avery (Bradley Cooper), the cop who is burdened with the repercussions of Luke’s actions, and follows him as he attempts to expose the nefarious dealings of police department in which he works. The closing act takes the story fifteen years into the future, and examines the lives of both Luke and Avery’s sons, each who have been brought up with varying results.
Undoubtedly, much of the film’s intrigue centres on the performance and interaction of Gosling and Cooper, the two lead male roles. While the actors only share a single scene together, the repercussions of the scene’s event have a ripple effect on the remainder of the film; so though they are kept apart, they share an intrinsic bond. It is evident that the subtle tension between the actors was harnessed and channelled into the film by the director, with the result of contributing to the film’s mood and tension. It has been interesting to chart the stars’ successes, both of them maturing into well respected actors in their own rights from questionable origins – The Notebook and The Hangover – to more ‘serious’ and mature roles. Playing a troubled police man, Cooper steps out of his comfort zone a little bit further than Gosling, who gives a performance that is reminiscent of the driver in Drive.
While each section had its own merits, the opening act was the most engaging and contained moments of brilliant tension, leaving the remainder of the film to work on heightening drama and developing the themes found in the exposition. It is in the film’s closure that its intentions shine through and it becomes clear that Cianfrance places heavy emphasis on the cyclic nature of events, and the relationships between father and son. Particularly poignant are the parallels that are struck between Luke and his son Jason; they can’t effectively be described without ruining the experience, but the film expertly closes the generation circle, and thankfully leaves the viewer optimistic.
As the film’s nature is hard to discuss without revealing the plot, I would simply encourage one to see it. I would not go so far as to say it’s a masterpiece, but it is certainly one of the more enjoyable films released this year, with moments that linger in the mind long after the final shot.
Written for Razz by Luke Gaillet