Directed by Derek Cianfrance, The Place Beyond The Pines follows a motorcycle stunt rider, Luke (Ryan Gosling) who turns to robbing banks when he finds out that he has a new-born child with his old lover Romina (Eva Mendes). Whilst everything goes to plan for a while, as his heist partner Robin threatens, “If you ride like lightning, you’re going to crash like thunder.” Luke’s decision soon renders him the target of an ambitious rookie cop, Avery (Bradley Cooper), and a department ruled by the corrupt detective Deluca (Ray Liotta), as the two become locked on a tense collision course which will have a devastating impact on both of their families in the years following.
Split into three acts, The Place Beyond The Pines spans two generations with Act 1 focusing on Luke (Gosling), Act 2 focusing on Avery (Cooper), and Act 3, set 15 years later, focusing on Jason (Dane DeHaan). If there’s one thing for certain it’s that Derek Cianfrance knows how to tell a story. Just like his directorial predecessor Blue Valentine, one of my favourite films of all time which also starred Gosling in the lead role, The Place Beyond The Pines has a powerful, ruthlessly realistic and deeply detailed plot, this time focusing on the relationship between fathers and sons.
Each act has its strengths, but this somewhat fragmented approach is what prevented me from giving the film the five stars I gave Blue Valentine. The Place Beyond The Pines just isn’t as coherent, peaking in its first act, ending with a bold turning point you wouldn’t have predicted from the trailers alone, and moving into the middle act at too slow of a pace to keep the same impact that it was building up to. Instead, this middle act is what bridges the gap between each of the three stories. Albeit proving that script for this film would have been detailed down to every last breath of air, it also leaves you worrying where the story will go from here. I guess it was always going to be hard to follow Gosling’s lead as he is what would have enticed most of us into seeing this film at all, so for me, without giving away any spoilers, this is what breaks the story up so adversely. Fortunately, Act 2 picks up towards the end and the third act concludes the film just as well as the first act opens it, but the small pit stop in the middle does put a momentary pause on Cianfrance’s brilliant film-making approach.
What prevents this from becoming too much of a distraction, however, is the brilliant performances given throughout. Having worked with Gosling before, Cianfrance certainly knows how to get the best out of him as an actor. His brutally honest performances are constantly heartbreaking and, even though he has a similar character to the one he did in Drive, with a role and jacket just as iconic, it’s amazing how he still manages to create a completely different persona. I haven’t met anybody that hasn’t been blown away by one of his performance over the past couple of years, and if you’re yet to be impressed then this is definitely the film to see. Especially as it’s one of the last appearances we will be seeing from Gosling his acting for a while to come. *holds back the tears*
Surprisingly, though, it isn’t all about Gosling, and the film holds up just as well when his handsome face isn’t the focus of the camera. Eva Mendes, especially, is sensational, more than I could have ever imagined (it’s no wonder Gosling took a fancy to her whilst filming), and Dane DeHaan gives a performance just as powerful. DeHaan is definitely one to watch, but we knew that after last year’s Chronicle, but I think the same can also be said for Mendes now, as I hope to see some better roles from her to come out of this.
Another quality of Cianfrance’s work is that his films always look stunning. The camera work is fantastic throughout, beginning with an over the shoulder shot scene of Luke entering his motorcycle showroom to introduce his character perfectly. The camera work does get a little shaky at times but this works incredibly when Luke is on his bike, as the contrasts of the camera movement help to adjust the tone. From the colour pallet to the intersected location shots, this time around the film also has a lovely soundtrack. With a subtle score running in a few of the most memorable scenes, the film also uses a great selection of songs, leaving me sat unmoved in my chair when the final credits start to roll as it ends beautifully with Bon Iver‘s The Wolves (Act I and II).
Whilst I was, at first, left with doubts as to whether I fully enjoyed The Place Beyond The Pines or not (it was always going to be 4 stars, at least, but I didn’t know how much that middle act influenced my overall view), after sleeping on it I have to agree that this is another masterpiece by Cianfrance. That final half a star may be missing in my rating but this is still a film I can’t wait to own.