The Place Beyond the Pines (2013) Review
Writers: Derek Cianfrance, Ben Coccio, Darius Marder
Certificate: 15 Running Time: 2hr 20 Mins
Cast: Ryan Gosling, Eva Mendes, Bradley Cooper, Ray Liotta
Plot: Stunt bike rider Luke (Gosling) becomes aware of his one-year-old son with his ex-girlfriend (Mendes) which changes his life forever. Meanwhile, ambitious rookie cop (Cooper) tries to build a career in the corrupt police department. A chance encounter results in a series of unforeseen circumstances.
The hype surrounding the precociously talented Derek Cianfrance reached fever pitch when his character driven study of a dysfunctional relationship in ‘Blue Valentine’ (2010) received much deserved recognition by the Academy. Cianfrance crafted a raw, unnerving and harrowing vision of a dysfunctional married couple enduring turbulence in their quest for contentment. It felt almost intrusive to be present; such was ‘Blue Valentine’s’ claustrophobic and intimate nature. In stark contrast, ‘The Place Beyond the Pines’ is a drama which transcends time, it sprawls over generations and unfolds into an elegant triptych. A trilogy which exudes scale of mythological proportion, a tale where the journey is more important the final destination. There is no question that this is daringly ambitious film-making, which takes risks and demands attention. Ultimately, you can’t help but be engrossed in its epic nature.
The electrifying menace of Ryan Gosling is largely suppressed with his most human and heartfelt performance to date. Upon discovering his paternal responsibility, every sinew of his being is driven to provide for those he feels an innate responsibility for. He is riddled with inner demons and a longing sense of emptiness; the common theme of responsibility is etched into Cianfrance’s moral compass. A man should not plant his seed unless he is prepared to nurture its growth. The chemistry between Eva Mendes and Gosling feels real and adds credibility to their story.
A single moment can shape a lifetime. One isolated encounter between two people can cause tremors which reverberate through the generations, there is no doubting that themes from Greek mythology underpin Cianfrance’s script and are visible in the form Cooper’s character. The corruption of the soul, the tragic nature of coincidence and the unrelenting nature of guilt form key and poignant themes throughout. Cooper plays the demanding role with verve, does worldly recognition and success outweigh the inner sense of contrition? Cianfrance explores and does so with refreshing vigour. There is even room for a jibe at the corrupt NYPD.
Once could argue, the plot ambles and the pacing is ponderous. At a lengthy 2hr 20mins, this requires attention and patience. There is a key sequence in the story (you will know when you see it) which stalls proceedings; it takes time for the viewer to re-adjust and ascertain the impact of the dramatic events on screen. The film could easily have fallen away at this point, instead it recovers and shifts the story through the ages with artistry and precision. For some, the element of chance and sheer coincidence may be overbearing and unrealistic. It is best to approach The Place Beyond the Pines with an open mind and stick with it. Intertwined fables and threads are knitted together to form a deeper, more profound meaning.
The theme of fatherhood is examined closely and forms the central pillar of Cianfrance’s vision. Not having a present father to aspire to can create inner friction, it is the test of character which will see a man rise, a rose from concrete. Is blood thicker than water? Will the son repeat the sins of the father? Can we alter the course of our fate? A school of thought would render that a man is in control of his own destiny and can master his own fate; other more religious outlooks would determine these to be pre-ordained. There is an argument for both sides, every interpretation will differ and it is to Cianfrance’s credit that he elicits such questions in the viewer’s minds.
The Place Beyond the Pines raises important spiritual themes as well as enthralling audiences in a truly cinematic experience. Cianfrance has crafted a bold vision which will certainly stand the test of time. The Place Beyond the Pines is the work of one of the most outstanding film-makers in contemporary cinema and is this year’s must see film.