Dir: Derek Cianfrance, 2013
Carnival motorcyclist Luke Glanton re-encounters an old flame who he discovers has been raising his one-year old son. Quitting his job, Luke uses his skills to become a bank robber which leads him to a fateful encounter with policeman Avery Cross, who also has a one-year old son.
The opening shot of The Place Beyond the Pines follows Ryan Gosling – reuniting with Blue Valentine director Derek Cianfrance – as he strolls coolly and confidently through a carnival to his battleground, the Globe of Death. This shot is shades of Tyler Durden as he marches through Lou’s Tavern to the eponymous Fight Club, right down to the red leather jacket. Both men dominate their domain and as far as Cianfrance is concerned, the audience should enjoy it because characters are going to be out of their comfort zones A LOT.
The Place Beyond the Pines is a subversive tale of responsibility, guilt, corruption and legacy in which every character is faced with a choice – to remain a slave to their circumstances or overcome adversity and rewrite their history. These challenges pit the characters in moral battles where perseverance doesn’t come lightly, even if the initial decision does.
Cianfrance’s characters correspond to different levels of adulthood which all weave together to create an unorthodox coming-of-age tale. Gosling’s Handsome Luke resembles the inner-child of all of us – donning inside-out t-shirts, amateur tattoos and a beat-up motorcycle. Cooper’s Avery is more tightly-wound – the rookie cop struggling to find his place in an adult life that doesn’t resemble TV Land, a metaphysical growing pain which we all experience. Often Cianfrance revisits shades of Blue Valentine in the dysfunctional relationships between several of the characters but never to as great a depth as before, hinting at the possibility of light at the end of the tunnel (in more ways than one).
While Cianfrance’s story may be too contrived or complacent for many, one must remember this film is about parenthood and the passing of the torch – a premise that is fundamentally idealist. Unfortunately, the film strives to capture too much, leaving significant plot points underexposed or left out completely. The film’s failures are a simple result of underdevelopment and a weighty imbalance which favours the glossy, blissful opening 45 minutes. Certain cast members glow (Ben Mendelsohn) while others are vexingly superfluous (Ray Liotta) which can be said, as previously mentioned, for certain plot points.
The Place Beyond the Pines could easily have been film of the year if not for a fluctuating narrative that slips from inspired to wasteful one too many times. Superb performances all around accompanied by dazzling camerawork and a divine soundtrack, Derek Cianfrance leaps from ultra-personal to universal romanticism in a film as bold as it is talented.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆