Running Time: 140 minutes
Reviewer – David Gillespie – Official HCF Artist
Sometimes you can tell within the first seconds of a movie whether what you are about to witness is going to be something special. The first scene in The Place Beyond the Pines is remarkable. The camera tracks Ryan Gosling’s stunt biker as he struts his way from fusty campervan, through a busy carnival and into a marquee featuring the evening’s highlight called The Globe of Death, a death defying stunt where three skilled and insane riders zoom round a caged globe in unison. The whole shot is unbroken and is an incredible moment that leaves you breathless. Yet there are times when you walk out of the cinema scratching your head as to whether you enjoyed the film. I had this feeling after watching last year’s The Master and I felt the same after viewing A Place Beyond the Pines. I thought The Master was one of the films of last year but regretably Cianfrance’s latest opus does not reach these heights.
The story spans fifteen years and focusses on two men and how their decisions and actions affect the fate of their offspring. Luke (Ryan Gosling) is a brooding loner with a conscience. After discovering his lover, Romina (a criminally underused Eva Mendes) has given birth to his child, he decides to leave his job as stuntman at the carnival and focus on making bigger gains by robbing banks with the help of his shady friend, Robin (Ben Mendelsohn). On the opposite side of the law is a young and ambitious police officer called Avery Cross (Bradley Cooper). He is keen to work his way up the ranks but is disheartened by the corruption and cost of climbing your way to the top. When Cross is wounded in the line of duty he deals with the guilt and depression from the experience by drowning himself in his work and shutting out his wife (Rose Byrne) and young son. The final act and weakest of the segments follows the chance meeting and friendship of the sons of Avery and Luke. Avery’s son, AJ (Emory Chen) has turned into a drug taking and mouthy thug whereas Luke’s son (Dane Dehaan) shows signs of his father’s wild side.
Having favoured a disjointed narrative with Blue Valentine, Derek Cianfrance opts for a similarly disorientating tone to this project. Some might be put off by the direction the director chooses to guide the story but I admired his courage. In one occasion it enhances the movie and on another it hinders the action. The project’s promotional drive has been on Gosling’s mystical biker yet this is a little bit of a red herring. To say anymore would likely spoil the enjoyment.
The production values and haunting score are as good as I’ve seen and heard in 2013 so far. Ciafrance is someone with incredible potential and I wouldn’t be surprised if we don’t see some movie classics from him in the future. However for all its fascinating and engrossing scenes and superb performances, The Place Beyond the Pines feels patchy, overlong and unfinished. The directors unwisely ventures into melodrama in the final sequences that undoes a lot of the earlier good work that comes before. Gosling can play the complicated and misunderstood loner in his sleep. Luke is a dumbed down version of the silent loner that he played in Drive with similar psychotic tendencies. However it is Cooper that steals the film in the role of an honest and caring citizen who risks losing everything he stands for by forcing his way up the promotional ladder. The scenes where he tries to bond with his young son but finds himself emotionally and physically unable to do so are heart-breaking and powerful. The supporting cast are superb with special praise being given to Mendelsohn, Liotta and Byrne in small but important roles.
The Place Beyond the Pines is an ambitious but flawed film that is sprinkled with moments of genius. Fortunately there are enough of these moments to justify viewing this film when it arrives on Blu-ray and DVD come August the 5th.