Derek Cianfrance previously got the best out of Ryan Gosling with ‘Blue Valentine’ in 2010, and this time around, he’s topped it. ‘The Place Beyond The Pines’ spans three generations, following motorbike stuntman Luke Glanton (Ryan Gosling) and rookie cop Avery Cross (Bradley Cooper) in Schenectady, New York, the English meaning of which gives the film its name. When. travelling loner Luke discovers by chance that he has a young son, he abruptly quits his job to stick around, disillusioned by the concept on settling down and starting a family. In a desperate attempt to provide for his child, he begins a life of crime, robbing banks in a smash and grab but calculated fashion, using the ill gotten gains to buy a cot and gifts for his offspring. A brooding illustration of fatherhood and all that comes with it, fixed in an ambitiously brave structure assisted by standout performances, this quietly intelligent tale hits hard.
Split into three acts, shown chronologically, this approach to filmmaking is certainly admirable, though the cinematic impact of the first act is so strong that I feel it outshines the second and third. Hitchcockian in its camera work, the one take sequences and extreme close ups draw the audience into the story brilliantly, straight from the opening over the shoulder scene of Luke as he enters a spherical cage to join his ‘heartthrobs’ ahead of their death defying travelling fair performance. This provides an instant intimacy with the character, giving a very humanistic insight into his flawed and psyche. To jump from the first act to the second through a tragic twist, the focus shifting from Luke to Avery, is a remarkably bold move, which clashes with the traditional method of storytelling, but unfortunately signifies a slight lull in interest, with the moral dilemma of the young policeman failing to garner quite as much likeability as the rock n’ roll fable it follows. Though it picks up again in the final act, coming fifteen years later, showing the sons of Luke and Avery, and the lives they lead, consequential of the paths their fathers led before them, bringing the beautifully poetic arrangement to its somewhat predictable conclusion. Holes can be picked in the plot, like the sons AJ and Jason coincidentally meeting across a school dinner table and becoming friends when their backgrounds are so contrasting, but it is difficult to be over critical when the overriding messages of class and justice are so powerful, and presented in such an effortlessly stylish way, memorable shots throughout and a subtle soundtrack resonating, tying the trio of tales tightly together.
In a story which offers a brutally realistic take on family, a trait which appears a developing trademark for director Cianfrance, the acting is spot on, wholly doing justice to the rich characters. Gosling, who worked closely in developing the ‘Handsome Luke’ creation, is mesmerising. With shades of his portrayal of ‘the driver’ in crime cult hit ‘Drive’, he is again mysterious and moody, and has another super cool jacket, his damaged persona dripping with magnetism, but here he takes it to another level. The performance is multi-layered, and the character is immediately iconic, with his doodle tattooed physique and platinum blond hair. His onscreen chemistry with love interest Romina (Eva Mendes) is electric, though this is probably helped by the fact they’ve been dating off screen for two years. The other star, dominant in the second part is Bradley Cooper, who also gives a career best piece as the dislikeable Avery Cross. Though Gosling is undoubtedly difficult to follow, Cooper does a professional job. Flimsy and overrated in the past, here he takes a deeply conflicted character, with dividing loyalties and surprisingly carries it off exceptionally. A suitably great supporting cast includes Ben Mendelsohn as bank robbing grease monkey Robin, and Ray Liotta as sleazeball cop Deluca, both heavily involved in pivotal plot devices. Even the two youngsters playing the sons in the closing third do very well, carrying attributes of the roles prior, and showing promise for the future. Dane DeHaan with the recklessness of Luke admittedly impressed more so than Emery Cohen as the cocky rich kid son of Avery and Jennifer, his rap star wannabe attitude seemed off-key and unnecessary, but this fault is with the writing I guess, not with the acting itself. Both hold their own in a tense finale to the father and son epic.
A commendable slice of cinema with a unique storytelling method, ‘The Place Beyond The Pines’ is a thought provoking piece of work, boasting a memorable and intriguing character in daredevil Luke Glanton. Ryan Gosling is the stand out, epitomising cool and continuing his working bond with Cianfrance, now competing with his other director/actor partnership with Nicolas Winding Refn who has worked with him in Drive and Only God Forgives. He announced a break from the silver screen, to sit in the director’s chair for his own project ‘The Lost River’, but with the media tipping him all the roles going, let us all hope he isn’t away for long. ‘If you ride like lightning, you’re going to crash like thunder’ is the tagline alongside Luke’s rapid path, but with the Gosling fan base ever increasing, his own ride surely won’t be crashing anytime soon.