With his latest feature film, writer/director Derek Cianfrance has already made his Magnolia with The Place Beyond the Pines, an excellent and expansive drama intertwining complex characters and haunting pasts with a twist of fate.
This is, without a doubt, a step in the right direction for Cianfrance who made a name for himself rather quickly with 2010’s Blue Valentine. I was a fan of the tightly wound performances in Blue Valentine, but found the film to be an annoyingly negative experience having little to nothing to say about relationships other than,”hey, some of them start strong and end in dysfunction”.
While the impact of The Place Beyond the Pines depends on a moviegoers’ ability to believe in coincidences, its story is far more rounded and mature than what we saw in Blue Valentine. Whether you were a fan of his breakout film or not, the agreement that this latest crime drama is a sign of a creative storyteller aging like a fine wine should be universal.
Cianfrance and his co-writers Ben Coccio and Darius Marder deliver us three stories that are seamlessly woven into an elaborate story. The first leg focuses on Ryan Gosling’s Luke as he tries to mend ties with Romina (played by Eva Mendes) who is parenting their son without his help. Luke then gets caught up in an addiction of robbing banks in order to provide for their son – something he’s dropped the ball on.
The film then switches over to Bradley Cooper’s character, Avery. Avery is a do-gooder rookie cop who gets caught up in Luke’s scamming ways which leads to Avery’s personal tell-tale heart story as he wrestles with knowledge that could potentially cause his family and his career harm.
The final act is a story of redemption that ties the prior two stories together making the stakes even higher. For me to go into detail about this flawless and impressive finale would be spoiling a large portion of enjoyment and fulfilment Cianfrance and his co-writers set up.
Recounting the film’s timeline, there were at least three times where I doubted the movie. Much like Luke’s daredevil motorbike spectacles, Cianfrance was going to try a stunt that could rarely be pulled of by the most skilled professionals.
All three times I was taken back by how the talent in front of and behind the camera were able to enthral audiences and stick their landings. Cooper and Gosling share the screen for a limited amount of time, but both are riveting in their roles with broken pasts. Cianfrance is using the same quiet character development techniques he used in Blue Valentine and it’s very effective; especially since the film takes a slow burn approach and lets each character – big and small – flesh themselves out patiently.
The Place Beyond the Pines takes full advantage of its settings, making its characters embrace Schenectady, NY – the film’s central setting – while also breathing a dark underworld beneath the neighbourhoods. Sean Bobbitt’s cinematography doesn’t have to manipulate the settings to capture the ever-changing atmosphere successfully and his ability to shoot these scenarios can offer that much more intensity or heartbrokenness to a scene or confrontation. Audibly speaking, the same can be said about the nuanced score provided by Faith No More’s Mike Patton.
The Place Beyond the Pines never leaves your head. Thinking abut my experience watching Cianfrance’s film, I loved how everything unfolded for me. Moviegoers are always taken on several paths – all different but all having some sort of relation to characters or past events, which also has help from the film’s sharp eye for aging detail. Pay attention to those props and locations peppered throughout.
Cianfrance pulls some punches and not everything may not sit well at first. I urge you to go with the film. If you’re rubbed the wrong way, stick with it a little bit further. The payoffs contribute to an end product that is surely in the running for the best film of 2013.