The Place Beyond the Pines (2013), directed by Derek Cianfrance
If you’re excited to see Ryan Gosling and Bradley Cooper act together but are wondering why they never appear together in the trailer for The Place Beyond the Pines, well, you’re on to something.
Oh right, spoiler alert.
The movie, the sophomore film from Blue Valentine director Derek Cianfrance, features a pairing with hints of the modern equivalent to De Niro and Pacino in Heat (and thank God not Righteous Kill), and is a simmering tale of morality, crime, absent parents and the cyclical nature of human faults (I believe once tackled in an Offspring song).
Just like Heat, we have two of our best actors working with some pretty chewy, hearty material here. Gosling shows us his best thousand-yard stare again, but with a character with more range than his Driver. Cooper tackles his first real serious, reality-based drama I can think of, and manages to sustain the attention built by Gosling, which says a lot.
I’m a champion of ambitious filmmaking, and of intimate filmmaking, and here we have both. With a running time of nearly two and a half hours and a plot which spans generations and three nearly separate stories, The Place Beyond the Pines has nothing if not scope. Of course, scope in and of itself is nothing without the entry point of compelling characters and story. Pines has both.
For the most part, it works. The hardest part in a film like this is making each segment equally compelling as the last. With attention spans wearing, I feel the third act is perhaps the weakest, partly because it lacks the star power of the first two, but also partly because the jump in time it requires is jarring. I was eventually swept up in it, but the film teeters dangerously on outstaying its welcome.
The film has a coda too, which I found entirely unnecessary and a cheap way to attempt to slap some easily graspable meaning onto the very end, for those who might be scratching their heads. It felt like a studio decision, to be honest, but I could be wrong about that. Any points the film is trying to make about generational cycles, the march of time, fathers and sons, are clear by then.
Also, after Rust and Bone and now this film, there is now an official CineFile ban on using Bon Iver’s “Wolves” in brooding indie movies.
I do worry that the power of The Place Beyond the Pines lies in only some of its performances, in certain moments, in a particular song, and less so in the film as a whole. It’s a great film to watch, don’t get me wrong, but I don’t know if it is one I would revisit often or feel differently about in five, ten years. But I’m still mulling that over.
But sitting there in the theatre I was transfixed and entertained by Cianfrance’s attention to characters, his commitment to taking the long road and letting the emotions of the film simmer, his refusal to (mostly) refrain from pinning heavy handed moral or philosophical lessons to his work.
Instead he has delivered an extremely ambitious, well crafted film that I wouldn’t hesitate to consider for a “best of the year” list.
The Place Beyond the Pines is in cinemas now.