Year: 2012 (U.K Release)
Director: Derek Cianfrance
Screenplay: Derek Cianfrance
Starring: Ryan Gosling, Bradley Cooper, Eva Mendes, Ray Liotta, Bruce Greenwood
Synopsis is here
The Place Beyond the Pines (TPBTP from now on) is a messy film, in a way that many American films try not to be any more. It's ragged around the edges and doesn't appear to answer every question it puts forth. I thank the film's writer/director Derek Cianfrance for that. There's a clear wish to elevate the material beyond what current audiences often register with. It's novelistic structure felt reminiscent of Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds although the stern dramatic material on display couldn't be further from Tarantino's more pulpy offerings. It's commentary of the "sins of the father" made me think back to one of my favourite films of the year What Richard Did (2012), although it doesn't strike it's message as hard.
Ambition is high here and it shows. Cianfrance takes a small microcosm of New York state American life, and expands it into a sprawling tale in which the lives of those involved are fractured by coincidence and infringement. While the film doesn't have the same earnestness that other works may hold, it is a piece in which its tone seeps in slowly from its corners and penetrates receptive viewers who are willing to put in the time. Its opening sequence is a significant one, in which we follow Luke Glanton (Gosling) from a changing room through a funfair towards his bike stunt job. As he walks we quickly absorb his way of life before we even see his face. The stunt he preforms is the perfect examination point to the jagged edges of the character.
Later on we see another character being asked to stand next to a relative at a grand event. We gain one small close up of the character and see them smile. Is the smile given a force one, based on the situation we've witnessed? Have they realised the complicated issues and decisions that someone has made to bring them to this moment? Like with What Richard Did, I asked myself if this character has now understood his luck. The film is speckled with small telling and intimate moments, which seem to be emphasised by the films large time frame.
Much of the films good work stems from the heavily lifting done from Bradley Cooper. From what I've seen; it is his best work. As the focus swings towards his story he deftly swipes the film away from most of the other performances. As we watch him stand up against the likes of Bruce Greenwood and Ray Liotta, you notice just how much of a controlled and effective performer he can be. The same could be said for Ryan Gosling; an actor who I've cooled on after the likes of Gangster Squad, who also does well here. His portrayal of Luke harks back to his quietly confident work from Drive. Gosling feels more interesting when he's given roles that speak less and we as a audience have to figure out what emotions are simmering beneath the surface. The same goes for Eva Mendes who comes out of her shell in roles such as the one she plays here.
In spite of all this, I had to ask myself; does this film stay with you? For me it doesn't. It clearly doesn't want to be the sort of entertainment that I often mindlessly chew on. Yet, there something about how the film strives so stamp its importance, that lingers over everything else that appears within it. Cianfrance for the most part; pulls off a difficult and quietly absorbing piece but the film still placed a firm amount of distance between me as a viewer and these characters. The Place Beyond the Pines is a messy film, but when these people stumble and fall, I want to be close enough to catch or fall with them.