Directed by: Derek Cianfrance
Cast: Ryan Gosling, Eva Mendes, Bradley Cooper, Dane DeHaan, Ray Liotta
Running Time: 2 hrs 20 mins
Release Date: April 5, 2013 (Chicago)
PLOT: A young father (Gosling) becomes a bank robber to help take care of his estranged baby boy. His actions have consequences across two families.
WHO’S IT FOR? This movie appeals to many different types of filmgoers; those who like rich epics, those who like Ryan Gosling without a shirt on, those who like Bradley Cooper, those who like crime dramas, those who enjoy looking at fast vehicles, and more. But the great aspect about Pines’ appeal is that it offers something unexpected for all. All a viewer must do is sign up for the film’s 140 minute running time.
In 2010, Derek Cianfrance gave us the heartbreaking duet Blue Valentine, a film pieced from the desperation we experience when begging a person we love to stay. Now, with his third film (but his second to gain distribution), Cianfrance has given us what works like an opera, telling three linked yet individual arcs within the backdrop of Schenectady, New York. The Place Beyond the Pines, a thoroughly impressive swing for the fences, is an ambitious “Neapolitan” epic with a soul to match its physical size. This is a big movie, and it is beautiful.
In the film three men, Gosling, Cooper, and DeHaan, are catapulted into life-defining moments of maturity, as forced upon by each other’s actions. To discuss how they are related would be to ruin the excitement of experiencing this movie’s many surprises, so I will enjoy being as vague as possible.
At first, The Place Beyond the Pines is like a decades old melodrama, including elements of baby daddy drama with Gosling harping on his own version of a daredevil without a cause (Cianfrance is spot on when he describes Gosling’s character in interviews as the subject of a Shang-ri La’s song). There are even moments in the beginning that feel as if the film’s tone is naive, but the rest of the script’s confidence supports the intention of such flaw. In the beginning these are young characters in a teenager of a story, and as the other thirds of the script have their say, this tale grows into that of a impressive man.
As with Blue Valentine, Cianfrance knows Gosling is compelling as a star, and also as a character. In Pines, Gosling’s eyes are never spared a good closeup, but the actor continues to never take himself too seriously. In scenes in which he is trying to sound his most intimidating, his voice has distinct cracks. There is a strange commendable openness to an actor with such an allure when he appears so readily to emasculate himself.
Cooper, having proven himself to audiences with last year’s Silver Linings Playbook, is determined to continue that notoriety with his own third of this film. Here, Cooper elevates his tale of police corruption beyond that of a simple morality moment.
And then there is Dane DeHaan, looking like a young Leonardo DiCaprio with more than just a single chip on his shoulder, with weary eyes. DeHaan’s third of the film is likely to be the most polarizing, for it features himself and a perfectly obnoxious gorilla of a teenager (who seems ripped from a Todd Solondz movie) taking the film in yet another unexpected direction. But, dismissing such a section is to miss the thrill of witnessing Cianfrance’s display of wisdom with young characters come full circle.
The women in this film seem like they are trying to make the best out of this father and son outing, but this movie isn’t about them. Mendes, in a serious role that only feels in the beginning like it is going to use her often utilized Hollywood beauty, is another presence to watch as she struggles to deal with the choices made by the men around her.
With such an ambition fueling this movie from its riveting first shot to its peaceful final frame, The Place Beyond the Pines is a gripping visual success, capturing the audience’s attention with a camera keen to its thrills, whether they are poetic or dangerous. There are chase moments and loud cars, each of them using point of view angles and extended takes to create a great sense of uneasiness. All of this which indicate that Cianfrance certainly is more than just a filmmaker with a mind for realizing human relationships, but also that of using visuals to create tension. If he were to make a film such as Cop Land in the near future, I wouldn’t be surprised.
The Place Beyond the Pines, in what I feel is a very flattering comparison, is best propped next to 2011’s Margaret, a film of similar length and ambition, and one that is an absolute thoroughly cinematic joy to experience simply because it dares to makes something big out of stories that seem small. Like Margaret (a movie that didn’t get the distribution it deserved), the dramatic stretching in Pines isn’t perfect, as the aforementioned melodramatic beginning can be polarizing, and there’s a glaring hole in the third act that feels like it could have been avoided.
This film not only marks the maturity of three incredible characters, but also that of its creator. As this story moves from that of a troubled young man to that of a father’s responsibility, we can see Cianfrance himself grow, taking progressive ownership of his captivating old soul. At the same time, he sets his sights high and wide with a concept many others would see as three separate movies. Cianfrance’s newest film, indicative that the Blue Valentine director is worth the attention, displays shared magnitudes of ambition and wisdom as it takes his audience to places unexpected.
FINAL SCORE: 8/10