The Place Beyond the Pines is a film that is both towering and epic. Relatively unknown director Derek Cianfrance (Blue Valentine) has done the unthinkable and crafted a drama quite unlike anything before it. Pines is a stirring tale of regret and decisions and learning to live with them long after they’ve been made. Ryan Gosling continues to show off his wide range as an actor, while Bradley Cooper turns in the performance that we’ve all been waiting for. Cooper and Gosling balance out two very different ways of life with their unique, yet sometimes subtle performances, while Cianfrance slowly unfolds the film’s lengthy story with elevating drama and haunting imagery.
Luke (Ryan Gosling) is a stuntman. He’s a loose cannon that doesn’t have much to call his own, until he finds out that a girl that he was with (Eva Mendes) has a kid and that kid happens to be his. Almost instantly he decides that it’s time for a life change, because now he wants to be the supporting father that he never had when growing up. He decides that robbing banks is the only real option for quick cash.
The deeper he gets involved with his child, the more jobs he seems to need to pull off to support his on-edge lifestyle. He knows that eventually it’s all going to catch up to him, but living in the moment is a dangerous thing, especially when fueled by love.
Avery (Bradley Cooper) is a rookie cop with ambitions to be the best of the best. He works for a department that’s been known to be a little corrupt, but that hasn’t stopped Avery from continuing to do an honest day’s work. Things get thrown out of whack for him when he is forced to use his weapon on-duty. Physically he recovers quickly, but his mental state of being quickly diminishes as he constantly recalls to that afternoon that changed his life forever.
Things get harder for him when he’s forced into corruption that he wants no part of, which causes him to question his loyalty to his friends over the oath he took to protect and serve the community with integrity and fairness. Just as Luke’s life starts getting brighter Avery’s contrasts with a dark and gloomy road ahead.
The Place Beyond the Pines might look like an average “indie” drama about relationships and family, coated in a grimy sweat and filmed in a corrupt cop neighborhood. Hell, the trailers sold it as that without many problems, but knowing what the film is actually about and then watching the trailer almost makes it feel like it’s an entirely different movie.
The things that are revealed in the trailer do happen in the film and almost in the exact same context, but there’s so much more. And by more I mean the story expands much farther out than you’d ever expect, pulling that quote from actor Dane DeHaan, which said something about the film being sort of like The Godfather. I’m not saying it’s anywhere near as good or timeless, but it certainly does share that same epic scope.
Derek Cianfrance unfolds the film brilliantly, presenting an opening act that keeps you gripping your chair and then following it with a second act that will have you guessing every single minute, until eventually bringing the film full circle with a predictable, but still impressive third act. Pines is structured in such a way that I can’t even properly comment on it without massive spoilers, so I’m going to continue to do my best without getting too specific.
His direction is full of haunting imagery that’s accompanied by a mesmerizing score, composed by Mike Patton. Together the two strike an even balance that roots the film’s tone early on and keeps it moving at a steady pace. Pines isn’t for those looking for quick action or quick results. Much like life, Pines unravels with plenty of small events occurring over time, eventually crashing together for an ending that strikes directly at the core.
There’s a father and son dynamic that Cianfrance touches on deeply and with great personal influence. He’s expressed in many interviews where he got his influence for the film and it certainly shows. Pines is a challenging family drama fueled by legacy and harboring family values. It’s grand in approach and big in delivery, not only telling us about one broken or damaged relationship, but several. There’s not one particular character that I’d even describe as the lead without completely underselling someone else.
Ryan Gosling and Bradley Cooper share a bulk of the screen time, but Dane DeHaan is also a key element to the film’s success. Each give the film a unique perspective that is explored in detail and without judgment by Cianfrance. There are no bad guys or good guys, just people dealing with other people in the only way that they know how. Supporting family and protecting family even when that same family doesn’t want it. And eventually the outcome of your decisions and how they ultimately sculpt those around you and those that look up to you.
Like the lengthy road that has been shown in the trailers and several times throughout the film, Cianfrance’s The Place Beyond the Pines is a drama that expands slowly, but in a massive way. It doesn’t quite go on forever, but it uses time to its advantage when it comes to telling the film’s connective story that builds and builds until the big finale.
And that’s where some might get lost. The Place Beyond the Pines relies heavily on escalation and slow progress. It doesn’t linger on decisions or the consequences that follow for too long, but it does focus heavily on how important every little single moment is in life, not just immediately, but years later. And the film does this without feeling too long or too distant.
But the third act deflates quickly and without as much punch as everything before it. I thought it was still a fitting conclusion that ended on a very high note, but some might find the sudden closing as something that goes against everything that the film has built up to.
The Place Beyond the Pines is a towering achievement that (right now) soars high above the rest as the single best film of 2013. I know that I’ve said some other films have amazed me this year, but not nearly as much as this one. Derek Cianfrance has perhaps made the single greatest family drama since The Godfather or at least one with that same amount of epic scope and closely-tied themes regarding fathers and sons, family, regrets, life decisions and just how important these things are over one’s own lifespan.
The Place Beyond the Pines – 10/10[springboard type=”video” id=”700231″ player=”dlyr002″ width=”600″ height=”365″ ]