"“Simply breathtaking cinema”"
Derek Cianfrance's The Place Beyond the Pines begins with an incredible opening shot – pensively pursuing the confident stride of the mysterious and charismatic Luke (Ryan Gosling) as he weaves his way between a crowd of people at a fairground. From this point you realise you're in for a treat, as the man who brought us the incredible romantic drama Blue Valentine continues to push boundaries, unparalleled to anyone else in contemporary cinema.
Luke is a motorcycle stunt rider, returning to the state of New York for the annual spectacle where he performs to a deferential crowd, and he sees Romina (Eva Mendes), a fling from his previous trip. He soon discovers that she had privately given birth to his child, prompting the stunt rider to quit his job, stay in town, and do all he can to make this work, and form a bond with his newly-born son. Romina, who lives with her partner, is somewhat reluctant to allow Luke back into her life, so in a bid to prove his worth, Luke turns to a life of crime, robbing banks with his new ally Robin (Ben Mendelsohn) to raise funds to donate to his new family. However such antics alert the attentions of local police officer Avery (Bradley Cooper).
Cianfrance has created a hugely ambitious project, as a feature that could almost be split into three different movies, episodic in its approach. All three parts to this tale are bound together by the same overriding themes of father and son relationships, with an ominous mood prevailing throughout. Cianfrance has created this tense, almost precarious atmosphere that is difficult to describe in words – a feat achieved in Blue Valentine also. The musical score adds to such an ambience, atmospheric and chilling – and provides a sound recognition for the audience, as we use the score to tie the differing stories together.
The story itself is moving and brilliantly well-rounded, with the themes of unity and the striving to make something of life, expressed poignantly and significantly. However, the one and only criticism to be had in The Place Beyond the Pines, is that the film does head steadily downhill as we progress towards the latter stages – particularly when the emphasis shifts on to the character of Avery. However much of that could be because Gosling's screen presence is alluring and enigmatic and you grow almost addicted to it. That said, the final act is still brilliantly well-crafted, it's just not as strong in comparison to the early stages – which is simply breathtaking cinema.
That isn't to take anything away from Cooper, mind you, as he shows once more – following his Oscar nominated performance in Silver Lining's Playbook – that here is an actor to take seriously. The only poor performance comes from Emory Cohen, playing his role somewhat conspicuously and immoderately, seeming out of place in a film that is otherwise subtle and elusive. The actors must be commended for dealing with a film that is rich in melodrama, yet remains naturalistic. Cianfrance has managed to take grand, sensational scenarios, and bring them to life honestly and authentically.
The Place Beyond the Pines is aesthetically outstanding, and fortunately backed up with a compelling, earnest story and host of impressive performances, as Cianfrance has taken an intimate family tale and has made it feel so epic. This truly is cinema at its best – and following both Blue Valentine and now this – we're looking at one of the finest, most innovative filmmakers out there.