When mentioning that I was going to see The Place Beyond the Pines I referred to it as ‘the latest Ryan Gosling movie’, which is fair, given the trailer. However, it’s not an out-and-out Gosling movie, not entirely. I’ll explain, but first, the setup.
Gosling plays Luke Glanton, a motorcyle stunt rider who works for a travelling fairground. We start with the obligatory ‘Gosling torso shot’, then the camera follows him in one long tracking shot from his trailer through the fairground into the main tent, he then climbs onto his bike. The shot pans up to his face. He’s cool, he’s moody, he’s a modern-day Steve McQueen – a promising start.
Luke then pays a visit to old flame Romina (Eva Mendes) and learns she has a son and he’s the father. He vows to stick around and provide for them. However fairground work doesn’t pay well, so he strikes up a friendship with mechanic Robin (Ben Mendelsohn), who suggests he robs banks using his motorcycle skills to get away.
Needless to say he gets in over his head and crosses paths with rookie cop Avery Cross (Bradley Cooper). The narrative then spins in another direction following Avery’s journey. Initially I thought the film was done with Glanton’s tale, however his character’s presence is felt throughout. As the trailer states, the film is ‘an exhilarating epic of fathers, sons and consequences’, which is apt. The film explores the legacy – for better or worse – that fathers leave behind for their sons and how it affects them.
After Avery’s tale, the film changes tack again, focusing on AJ (Emory Cohen) and Jason (Dane Dehaan), the sons of Cross and Glanton respectively. Both young lads put in strong performances, the former reminded me of a young Tom Hardy – an intense screen presence. The latter, Dehaan, delivered another mature performance, following his strong turn in one of the most impressive, yet underrated films of 2012, Chronicle.
Gosling can confidently add The Place Beyond the Pines to his ever-growing list of classically cool characters. Cooper, too, can hold his head high. After an exemplary performance in Silver Linings Playbook, this may be a career-high.
In terms of script and direction, Derek Cianfrance has been quite clever. You’re likely to discover more depth and meaning with a second viewing. That’s not to say those things aren’t present first time round, it’s just that, with the plot switching focus roughly each act to new characters, you spend your first viewing working things out. A second viewing should allow you to sit back and soak up the experience more thoroughly.
In terms of cinematography, it looked quite beautiful. The landscape in and around the town of Schenectady (which literally means ‘the place beyond the pines’) was incredibly green, lush and fertile. Scenes were filmed in a sort of watery light and dreamlike manner, with a lot of handheld camerawork. I suppose to bring a sense of realism.
Whatever the motives, overall The Place Beyond the Pines came across as a tender, heartfelt, beautiful-looking tale with real depth – one that will mature with repeat viewings. Cianfrance coaxed sterling performances from the cast – particularly Cooper and Dehaan – and, with this and Blue Valentine to his name, I’m excited to see what he does next.