By: Garrett Collins
Starring: Ryan Gosling, Eva Mendes, Bradley Cooper, Rose Byrne, Ben Mendelsohn, Ray Liotta, Emory Cohen and Dane DeHaan
The Place Beyond The Pines is one of the most intriguing films to be released in quite a while. That’s not to say that it’s either good or bad. It just means films that don’t have a straight sequential way of storytelling don’t come around too often. For his second directorial effort, Derek Cianfrance (Blue Valentine) ambitiously decided to craft a story in a narrative style that is not much different from the one established by Crash. It tells three different stories, each one feeding off the other until they meet at the film‘s conclusion. It is a movie that boasts magnificent performances from all involved, and as far as sophomore efforts go, hits most of the right notes. The Place Beyond The Pines has enough twists and thrills to make for a pretty good night at the movies. And you might even shed a tear or two as well.The first character we get to know in The Place Beyond The Pines is Luke Glanton. As portrayed by Gosling, Glanton is a traveling stunt driver who comes to town as part of his show. If at this point in the film’s description you are having Drive flashbacks, that is understandable. After all, this is another dark thriller that boasts an eclectic soundtrack and stars Gosling. However, this is where the similarities end, as The Place Beyond The Pines is a much different movie. Wait, I take that back. This is not where the similarities end. Because, like Drive, Gosling is absolutely fantastic in this. Scary when he has to be (bank robberies) and soft when it’s called for (the scene where he introduces his son to ice cream is about as sweet as the ice cream itself), Gosling once again pulls out all the stops. A poignant example being when he is seen crying out of sight at his son’s baptism. It is most powerful considering how his character’s fuse gets hotter and hotter the more banks he robs. Yet, the love for his child is the only emotion on display here. Blonde haired and covered in tattoos from head to toe, Gosling does not let the look do his acting for him. It is a true testament to his talent and choices in roles, both of which never cease to amaze me, that he comes off as well as he does.
Also of note is the performance of Cooper. Coming off his Oscar nominated performance in Silver Linings Playbook, Cooper again brings his impossible not to like sensibilities to the role of Avery Cross. His portion of the story falls into more conventional territory of a cop trying to do the right thing with all types of corruption swirling around him. And, quite frankly, this was also the most tiresome section of the film. Cross’ constant trusting of one character and the next, with the same result happening each time, bordered on being sluggish, and I think that if there was at all an opportunity to do some trimming of the film’s running time, this was it. However, it all serves a purpose and once his opportunity to be the centerpiece is up and the title ‘15 Years Later‘ crosses the screen, we then switch to the most surprising part of The Place Beyond The Pines for me.I hesitate to give much out about this section of the film, as it is where the most surprising twists happen. But it would be dumb of me to review The Place Beyond The Pines without talking about the two actors who portray Cross’ and Glanton’s teenage sons. Cohen plays AJ, the son of Cross who is also involved in the world of drugs. And while he doesn’t have much more to do than speak in a New York accent and fight people in cafeterias, there were times when Cohen reminded me of a young Tom Hardy. And that is not a bad thing. However, as good as Cohen was, I have extremely high praise for the arguably most nuanced performance of the film, and that was the one of DeHaan. As my only other exposure to him was the much overpraised Chronicle, I was not expecting much from DeHaan in this film. But his portrayal of Jason (the son of Glanton) was nothing short of remarkable. As he has to show the widest ranges of emotions, I felt for each of his accomplishments and cringed at his setbacks. This is one young actor who has all the potential of being a new, well, Gosling. Keep your eyes on him.
All of the supporting cast also serve the plot well. Mendes and Byrne, who both have been on the cusp of stardom for a few years now, are great in both of their somewhat small, but heavily important roles as the ladies in the two main characters’ lives. Byrne especially has a way of looking at the camera and sending us, the audience, her exact thoughts without uttering a word. Liotta seems to have mastered the sleazy cop role, and I would be lying if I didn’t say I got a real kick out of him here. His remarks to Cross about who really wears the pants in their house added some much-needed laughs in an otherwise devoid of laughter movie.
There are times that Cianfrance did a great job behind the camera. For example, there are a couple of great parallel shots between Glanton riding his bike in one time frame, and then his son riding the same exact road from the same exact camera angle in another time frame. Pretty subtle yet powerful stuff. However, I did feel while watching The Place Beyond The Pines that Cianfrance had not yet reached the plateau of greatness just yet. This being his first ‘big’ directing gig, I didn’t expect much difference from how he handled Blue Valentine. And to be truthful, his directing style was serviceable for the most part. But a couple of things he has seemed to fall in love with are herky-jerky camera movements and ultra close-ups. Both of which serve little purpose other than to distract the viewer. I know that Cianfrance shot the action scenes Cops style to give it the sort of feeling that we were in on the action. But there are times during the chase scenes that I felt like I was seeing two people at a time, when all I was looking at was the camera shaking and shooting Cooper running. This directing style takes me right out of the action, and these chase scenes were just not thrilling to me.
But, small complaints notwithstanding, The Place Beyond the Pines is a very good film. Movies are made all the time that ask questions about whether the good guys are really good and the bad guys are really bad. But there are very few of these films that are as captivating as this one. It is a small step up from Blue Valentine, and Cianfrance has seemed to have accomplished his mission of making a film that is no less than compelling. Tremendous performances and a more often than not sharp script make The Place Beyond The Pines one of the best films of this early year.
4 out of 5