Derek Cianfrance’s The Place
Beyond the Pines, judging solely on the basis of the trailer,
looked like a mildly interesting crime thriller focusing on the high
octane exploits of Ryan Gosling’s motorcycling bank robber and his
attempts to evade capture by Bradley Cooper in a game of cat and
mouse a la Heat.
Surprisingly the film is so much more
than that, instead being a fascinating meditation on paternal
identities and attempting to explore the truths of the old adage of
the sins of the fathers being revisited on the sons.
Staged as a triptych of
interconnected stories, The Place Beyond the Pines initially
follows the story of Luke Glanton (Ryan Gosling), or Handsome Luke
as he’s known in his profession as a daredevil stuntman. Living a
life on the road, Luke returns to Schenectady, New York only to find
that a one night stand shared with a woman named Romina (Eva Mendes)
has resulted in the birth of a son he never knew existed. Feeling an
obligation to be there for his child and provide for both him and
his mother at least financially if not emotionally, Luke gives up
his nomadic ways and attempts to settle down in Schenectady, much to
the chagrin of Romina’s current partner Kofi (Mahershala Ali).
Luke seeks out a job working for
mechanic Robin (Ben Mendelsohn, whose career has shot into the
stratosphere since his mesmerising turn as ‘Pop’ in Animal
Kingdom) but it’s not the most lucrative of businesses and
pretty soon, despondent, Luke agrees to join Robin in his previous
occupation as a bank robber, using his unique skill set on a
motorcycle to effortlessly evade capture.
This sends Luke on a collision course
with fledgling police officer Avery Cross (Cooper), who also has a
young son; after taking a bullet in the line of duty, Cross is
hailed as a kind of wunderkind, but after accompanying corrupt
officer Peter Deluca (Ray liotta) on an illegal raid in order to
obtain some dirty money, Cross finds himself drawn into a web of
corruption and backroom politics as he struggles to reconcile his
feelings about his participation and the prospect of betraying the
code of honour amongst police officers in order to expose the
underhanded dealings going on in his department.
The third act flash forwards fifteen
years and focuses on Luke and Avery’s children, now teenagers, and
the ramifications of their chance meeting at high school. Cross is
now a high profile District Attorney with his eyes on running for
attorney general and his son AJ (Emory Cohen) has just relocated
from his mother’s to live with him. Jason (Dane DeHaan), Luke’s son,
is, as AJ calls him, a loner stoner who is initially reticent to
hang out with AJ but soon discovers that they share a mutual love
for getting high. Jason soon finds that AJ is a bit of a grandiose
bully and tries to distance himself from him, but circumstances
dictate that their paths keep crossing, ultimately with consequences
that will resonate through the lives of all involved.
The Place Beyond the Pines has a structure
that some viewers may find deterring, especially a pretty major
shift that takes place about 40 minutes in; another bone of
contention, besides the film not being at all like the highfalutin
action extravaganza promised by the trailer, seems to be the way the
third act plays out, with some arguing that the impact of the
preceding acts is almost entirely absent.
Personally I didn’t share these
complaints and was as enamoured by the film when the credits ran as
I was when it opened; certainly a few points seemed a tad contrived
and certain actions out of character, mainly Jason’s, but the
effects of the actions of the fathers and how they impact the lives
of their children was, for me, absolutely riveting, and yet the onus
isn’t placed squarely on the shoulders of the dads but
accountability is also afforded to the actions of the individual.
The Place Beyond the Pines is a slow burning account of the ways
a few simple actions can alter the trajectories of the lives of
these both directly and indirectly involved; particularly
enlightening is Avery Cross’s act, where supposedly noble actions
aren’t necessarily made for those reasons, using certain decisions
to highlight how they were made more to benefit a character rather
than due to an inherent sense of morality.
Special mention must also go to the
haunting soundtrack by Mike Patton of Faith No More (And
about a million other bands too extensive to list here) fame, with
each measured and foreboding note perfectly placed. The fact that
he’s one of my favourite artists certainly doesn’t hurt, but his
accomplished soundtrack really does serve to accentuate the sombre
mood of the film.
The Place Beyond the Pines has a naturalistic
look that’s perfectly conveyed by the transfer, with inky blacks and
consistent colour tones. The detail is crisp and there’s no sign of
banding or aliasing, although there are slight instances of uneven
grain in certain scenes; this can be attributed more to the
cinematography rather than the transfer though, which is of the high
quality one would expect for a Roadshow release.
The audio track is realistic and
presented in 5.1 surround, with a dynamic and robust transfer that
is a perfect accompaniment to the brilliant score by Mike Patton.
Dialogue is delivered cleanly and the channels are clearly
delineated with no evidence of audible bleed through.
Special features include a commentary track by
Derek Cianfrance that manages to achieve the nigh impossible task of
holding your interest over the film’s extensive running time, laden
with technical information and anecdotes from the shoot. Also
included on this release is a perfunctory featurette and a
collection of four deleted scenes.
Going to ‘The Place Beyond the Pines’
Deleted and Extended Scenes:
80/20 (2:50), Luke Goes to Jail (4:04), Military School (1:34) and
Jason Meets Dean at Robin's (1:34)
Profound, gracefully structured and
bolstered by strong performances all round, The Place Beyond the
Pines is a profound and haunting film that will stay with you
long after the credits. Few films can pull off a narrative structure
like this and even fewer have the chops to back up the weighty
themes presented within. Simply put, The Place Beyond the Pines
is a strong contender for my favourite film of the year; some
may come into it expecting an entirely different film, as evidenced
by the misleading trailer, but if they persevere once their
expectations are subverted they’ll discover a much more beautiful
and thought provoking beast that will resonate deeper than any cops
and robbers chase captor ever could. Highly recommended.