April 20, 2013 – for Cuckoo Review
Length: 140 mins
Writers: Derek Cianfrance, Ben Coccio, Darius Marder
Dir: Dereck Cianfrance
Starring: Ryan Gosling, Bradley Cooper, Ray Liotta, Eva Mendez
I was recommended The Place Beyond the Pines by a friend of mine, who told me it looked like it was a spiritual sequel to 2010’s Drive (which I love). This comparison was inevitable, given that Gosling is once again playing a borderline sociopathic petrol-head with a penchant for stealing vast amounts of money. I was pleasantly surprised to find, however, that The Place Beyond the Pines is altogether a very different film. Do not be fooled by the rather misleading trailers (as I assume the comestible-laden movie-goers who sat next to me were) – this is not an action film. This is a character piece with bits of action in it.
The film is divided into three interconnected stories. The first follows Handsome Luke (Gosling), a former carnival stunt motorcycle rider who turns to robbing banks as a means to provide for his infant son. Luke’s story comes to an abrupt end, which sees the introduction to Avery (Cooper), a newbie law-schooled cop who has trouble dealing, emotionally and physically, with the realities of the job. There’s even an LA Confidential style police corruption subplot in this section.
After a break of 15 years, the audience meets characters Jason (Dane DeHaan) and AJ (Emery Cohen). As this unlikely friendship develops, it soon becomes evident that they have a lot more in common than their partiality to drink and drugs. It is a good watch, arguably because Cianfrance just lets the story unfold and allows the audience to form their own opinions and seek their own meanings.
The characters are very human; the dialogue seems completely natural and unforced. They are incredibly complex and again Cianfrance allows us to form our own judgements about them, which can at times be difficult. Luke has a bizarre moral compass and set of ethical rules that see him go from crying his eyes out (in a stand-out scene that takes place in a church) to robbing banks. Similarly, Avery struggles with the guilt of his past and connecting on any level with his own son. The characters and their interactions are intensely compelling, despite the fact that the vast majority provide plenty of reasons why you should dislike them intensely. Despite the fact that the last third of the story is by far the weakest, the younger actors do well to present themselves symbolically. I would have liked to have seen more development in this story arc; there was something interesting here that was not used to its full potential, which is a shame.
These are complex themes – fate, generational feuds and the relationship between fathers and sons. Cianfrance is cunning in his use of them, toying with the audience’s preconceptions and showing that his characters – and, by extraction, people in general – are infinitely complex. Numerous shades of grey rather than black and white. It is a masterful, must-see film that benefits immensely from the fact that it is nothing like Drive.