The Place Beyond The Pines director Derek Cianfrance likes his characters conflicted. Characters who are deeper than most Hollywood cardboard cutouts, characters with depth who are both fascinating and familiar. With his last film, the painfully honest Blue Valentine, he took a simple ‘girl meets boy’ story and flipped it upside-down to harrowing levels of reality, investigating a relationship at its honeymoon golden stage through to its shattering, angry climax. The Place Beyond The Pines maintains similar characters, struggling to find their place in the world and how mistakes echo through the generations that follow.
The film is split into three distinct chapters. The first sees Luke Glanton (Ryan Gosling) a stunt rider who discovers he has a child with a former one-night stand, Romina (Eva Mendes). Desperate to provide for his son he turns to a life of crime, using his unique riding skills to rob banks. After a getaway goes wrong Gosling finds himself pursued by Officer Avery Cross (Bradley Cooper) as their two lives collide in ways which will impact both them and their young sons. The second chapter sees Cross’ career begin to flourish as he is forced to confront corruption within the force. The final chapter, set 15 years later, follows Cross and Glanton’s sons AJ (Emory Cohen) and Jason (Dane DeHaan) as they find themselves attending the same high school, oblivious to their shared history.
Sprawling and utterly compelling, The Place Beyond The Pines proves that Cianfrance is a filmmaker to revel in. While the marketing bods would have you think the film is an epic crime piece in the vein of Michael Mann’s Heat, it is in fact quite a different beast. The crime is over by the end of the first act, the die cast for a detailed, often Shakespearian tale of fathers and sons.
In their own ways both Glaton and Cross cast intimidating shadows for their children to struggle under. Glaton’s the cool hero, Cross the boy scout who can do no wrong. By the concluding chapter it is made clear that sons AJ and Jason are both rebelling against their heritage but molded by it at the same time. Indeed what starts out as kicking against their fathers soon turns to something else, an idealisation so steeped in irony it’s painful to behold. The sins of the father are truly passed to the son in Pines’ clouded world.
It’s often languid, taking its time to get inside the characters’ heads in order to perfectly understand their motivation behind the paths they chose. You won’t always like them, at times you’ll likely hate them, but whichever way you cut it Pines presents something brutally honest and haunting. If there is a weakness it’s that, at times, it feels indulgent. There are parts that could be trimmed but when looked as a whole everything serves a purpose.
Dane DeHaan and Emory Cohen dispel the impression of Hollywood teenagers being all perfectly groomed and beautiful. They’re both grungy, often hostile youths with axes to grind if not with each other than simply the world around them. Ryan Gosling meanwhile, as always, will take much of the plaudits. His Luke Glaton is typically Gosling, laconic cool. While the peroxide hair and inked-up skin tries to rebel against the swooning good looks it’s nothing we haven’t seen from Gosling before. Although that’s not to suggest he’s anything less than magnetic on screen. Cooper, meanwhile, continues to go from strength to strength with each performance. It is a shame that many applauded Gosling’s role and so horribly overlooked Cooper’s. Cooper is the glue of the film, the tie that holds all these narratives together and we see him at various stages of his life, all of them subtly different from the last. His Cross is always looking to do the right thing but it doesn’t come easy to him, he’s arguably more conflicted than the rest of the characters but manages to always be seen to have it together. In Cooper’s able hands we see this, his tortured soul always weighing up which road Cross will take.
Compelling, fascinating and often captivating, The Place Beyond The Pines is a journey worth taking.