Film Review: The Place Beyond The Pines
Unflinchingly dark and unapologetically ambitious, The Place Beyond The Pines is a compelling and masterfully-directed ensemble film disguised as a ‘Ryan Gosling-being-badass’ vehicle.
A follow-up to writer/director Derek Cianfrance’s critically-acclaimed 2010 film Blue Valentine (which also starred Gosling), Pines tells a harrowing tale about destiny, the responsibilities of a father, and the consequences to our actions.
It’s difficult to get into the plot without revealing too much (something that the trailer succeeds at doing), but essentially, the film chronicles the lives of two families in the small town of Schenectady, New York, and the spiralling domino effect that follows from motorcycle stuntman Luke Glanton’s (played by Gosling) desperate resort to bank robbery in order to support his lover, Ramona (Eva Mendes), and their new-born child.
One of the first indications of Cianfrance’s capabilities as a filmmaker is his skill in bringing out great performances from his actors by tailoring each character to the actor’s strengths. It is no secret that Gosling has a knack for playing the brooding, tough, ‘bad boy’-type characters, but Cianfrance presents an invigorating take on that archetype, fuelling the character of Luke with a relentless drive to do the right thing by his family, even if that means turning to a life of crime; a role that Gosling assumes almost effortlessly.
However, the standout performance of this film comes from Bradley Cooper (The Hangover, Silver Linings Playbook) as Avery Cross, (a character that Cianfrance apparently wrote with Cooper in mind) an ambitious rookie cop whose life takes a drastic turn upon his decision to respond to a bank robbery, sending him on a collision course with Luke. Cooper continues to show his versatility and dramatic chops as Avery – who, like Luke, also has a new-born child with his wife, Jennifer (Rose Byrne) – and is engagingly convincing as a man who constantly struggles to cope with his inner demons in the midst of complications from his rising career and public image.
The film is ultimately an ensemble effort, and would not have been as engaging as it is without the terrific performances from its talented supporting cast. Mendes (Fast Five, Ghost Rider) and Byrne (Bridesmaids) are pleasantly understated as Luke and Avery’s respective lovers; whereas Australian actor Ben Mendelsohn (The Dark Knight Rises) is fun to watch as Luke’s partner-in-crime, Robin. Dane DeHaan (Chronicle) establishes himself as one of the stronger up-and-coming young actors around with his solid portrayal as Luke’s son, Jason.
Cinematographer Sean Bobbit succeeds at providing a beautiful yet gritty depiction of a small American town like Schenectady, and the action scenes feel breathtakingly realistic and intense. I also enjoyed the way most of the conversations in the film were shot, with each cut only showing the person who was speaking in the far right or far left of the shot.
The story of Pines unfolds chronically in three parts, completely shifting the point-of-view in its narrative between each segment. What impressed me the most about the film was the way it disguises itself as your usual, self-contained indie flick, but it’s not until the tail end of its second act that you realise Cianfrance’s grand vision for the film, with overarching themes of the power of choice and paternal legacy reverberating throughout.
However, the film is not without its flaws. Cianfrance patiently allows the tension to build slowly to a climax for each act, and it works when brilliantly executed in the first two, but as admirable as it is for the film to attempt at drawing parallels and bring everything to full circle, Pines loses steam in its poignant final act, which plays out for a little too long. Thankfully, the strength of the film comes from its underlying emotional core and thematic grandeur, and that is enough to compensate for its plotting issues.
That being said, The Place Beyond The Pines is a beautifully poetic and riveting epic that is a stark reminder of what I love about independent films.
I give it 4 out of 5 Gosling faces
Indie film enthusiast
For fellow WA/Perthians, the movie is still in theatres now! If you’ve read The Great Gatsby, give this movie your money instead.
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