Some films are meant to provide an intense cinematic experience, while others have simply been made to follow a conventional narrative. It's always intriguing to watch how filmmakers escape from the norm in order to experiment with the way in which the story is told and the characters are portrayed. Writer/Director Derek Cianfrance became well-known for Blue Valentine, which is an incredibly moody and well-told film that tells the story of a marriage breaking apart. While Cianfrance is still exploring a sacred connection, this time he's tackling the father-son relationship. There are a lot of pictures that have clearly inspired this feature's development, but The Place Beyond the Pines pushes itself a little further by taking a multiple risks. Writer/director Derek Cianfrance should feel proud, since most of them paid off.
A motorcycle stunt rider named Luke (Ryan Gosling) returns to a town that he hasn't been to in a year due to his job. He sees Romina (Eva Mendes) at his show, and is shocked to discover that he got her pregnant. With this new-found revelation, he decides that he wants to stay with Romina and their child in order to take care of them. Aside from the fact that she's in a relationship with another man, Luke wouldn't be able to financially support Romina and his child. He finds himself staying with Robin Van Der Zee (Ben Mendelsohn), who works on cars. Luke becomes convinced of a way to make money, so he helps Robin rob banks in order to become a true member of the family he wants to be a part of. This puts him on a collision course with Avery Cross (Bradley Cooper), who is an ambitious police officer. He finds himself involved with a department controlled by corrupt individuals.
The Place Beyond the Pines could easily be divided into three individual segments. Each act follows a different set of characters through a variety of situations, although they all refer back to father-son relationships. The first follows Luke through his attempts to take the role as Romina's lover and the father of their child. The second conveys Avery Cross deciding how he will overcome the corruption found in the justice department. The third displays Luke's son, Jason (Dane DeHaan), and Avery's son, AJ (Emory Cohen). With help from Ben Coccio and Darius Marder, Derek Cianfrance has developed a strong screenplay. Fortunately, these three portions don't interweave. When one act of the movie ends, the torch is passed from one character to the next. The plot is told in a chronological order, allowing The Place Beyond the Pines to have a clear beginning, middle, and end over the given story duration. This allows each character to receive a sufficient amount of uninterrupted screen time.
The more time you spend with each of these roles, the more intrigued you will become with them. While they're incredibly different people, they find themselves in strikingly similar moral situations. Each of the main characters have good intentions, but generally make a lot of the wrong decisions. While none of them are good or evil, they can be found in the gray area in between the two. The raw nature of these characters is one of the many elements that draws the audience into this feature. One moment you might be rooting for them, but the next you might be irritated by them. Cianfrance's goal of achieving a realistic group of characters has been met. Not only are the characterizations great, but the dialogue allows them to push the envelope just a little bit further. The writers manage to hook audiences and keep them locked with intrigue for the majority of the running time.
Luke and Avery's portions of the film are brilliant, but Jason and AJ's section loses a little bit of steam. The third act doesn't hold the same amount of tension or emotional power. While it's easier to connect with Jason than AJ, the picture still loses quite a bit of its momentum. The plot points become more predictable and the character development isn't as strong as it was with their fathers. However, the final act is ultimately able to improve upon itself before the credits begin rolling. Audiences will find themselves caring more about these characters after the movie ends than they will while watching it. Once the movie is over, the content will be stuck in your head. I found myself thinking about this film for days after seeing it. Despite the final act, this proves to be an extremely strong sign of a worthwhile piece of cinema.
Derek Cianfrance hasn't worked with a lot of the cast previously, but Ryan Gosling starred in the director's Blue Valentine. Gosling has turned in an outstanding performance, yet again. He's incredibly believable, especially as he shares genuine words with Romina. He's so charming that you'll find yourself hoping that everything ends well for him. Bradley Cooper also turns in an excellent performance in the role of Avery Cross. Not only is he convincing, but he helps create an extra amount of depth that wouldn't have been present in this character otherwise. Avery almost grows into a completely different person by the time the credits are rolling, but Cooper develops the change rather well. Dane DeHaan might be starring in the weakest portion of the film as Jason, but he does a good job with the character. In supporting roles, you'll find Ben Mendelsohn, Ray Liotta, Eva Mendes, and Rose Byrne. They don't all receive a lot of screen time, but they aid in elevating this content to new heights.
Cianfrance has an interesting visual style that will surely divide audiences. While some of the cinematography is similar to that of Blue Valentine, this feature conveys a different tone. The Place Beyond the Pines is presented with a gritty and grainy picture. Cianfrance clearly enjoys to utilize the handheld camera technique, especially through the scenes with an extra amount of tension, and it works within the context of this film. The director even handles the motorcycle sequences extraordinarily well. After robbing a bank, Luke runs to his motorcycle and speeds off. He doesn't have any issues driving through red lights and other incredibly dangerous conditions. Cianfrance captures these scenes very well, which will cause audiences to sit at the edge of their seats. The Place Beyond the Pines is an excellent addition to this director's visual work.
It isn't common for filmmakers to create characters that are as rich with depth as these. This emotional crime drama kept me sitting at the edge of my seat, anticipating what would happen next. The first two acts of the film are absolutely remarkable, although the third act doesn't manage to carry the same amount of excellence. While it's still decent, it could have been better. However, writer/director Derek Cianfrance made a lot of outstanding decisions, such as telling this story chronologically instead of interweaving the characters' perspectives. This film kept me intrigued from the moment it started until the credits started rolling. The Place Beyond the Pines is a strong piece of cinema that shouldn't be missed. Highly recommended!