This is a beast of a film, with intertwining stories of three protagonists playing out across a large time frame. Writer and director Derek Cianfrance hasn’t made things easy for himself here, biting off a lot. Fortunately the production chews through it pretty well, and events play out at a deliberate pace broken by occasional high octane moments. The acting is high quality, Aussie Ben Mendelsohn is excellent, Ray Liotta is downright creepy, and you can’t look away from Ryan Gosling. Bradley Cooper, Bruce Greenwood, Eva Mendes and Rose Byrne are great here too. But the film is more about the collective effect of its elements, one that is intriguing and dark.
The first act centres around Ryan Gosling’s character Luke, a carnival stunt rider who lives for his bike. Things change when he discovers he has a baby son to Romina, Eva Mendes. With the help of strange loner Robin, the consistently great Ben Mendelsohn, he turns to bank robbery to provide for them, against the wishes of Romina and her partner. This act merges tragically into the next with Bradley Cooper as ambitious cop Avery, who also has a young son, taking the foreground. Troubles at the police force and at home push him to pursue rampant careerism, striving to uphold his principles but also obscuring them. Cut to 15 years later and the sons of these two inevitably meet in the final act, driven by the sins and circumstances set in motion by their fathers. Not wishing to spoil anything, but this act ends more distantly and positively than expected, which may be irksome or relieving depending on what you take from this film.
I found the first act easily the best. It has the most style, and plenty of substance despite not having the set-up the other acts have. Shot and scored in a way reminiscent of another Ryan Gosling film, Drive, it is gritty and dirty, lit by coloured lights and the warmth of family. It grips you right from the start, and the opening scene is impressive, taking some queues from Scorsese. Director of Photography Sean Bobbit, who worked on Hunger and 12 Years a Slave, employs a cleverly diverse style. There is some great, uncomplicated framing, which suits Gosling and his Dean-esque non-acting, while he pulls out some ridiculously shaky handheld for action shots, which both heightens and obscures. Faith No More’s Mike Patton is credited with the wonderfully eclectic soundtrack, with editor Jim Helton providing some of the score himself. Suicide provides the perfect backing to the first act, while classics such as Dancing in the Dark and Please Stay, by The Cryin’ Shames, break up the heavy tone.
The Place Beyond the Pines has a strong feel about it, one solidly crafted by many brilliant elements. However, as far as the story goes, I feel it missed the mark on occasion, mostly because it didn’t push far enough. The theme of consequence, that of the father’s and the son’s actions affecting the other, sins being passed on, is quite biblical and impressive. But it means great story opportunities, such as Avery’s inner turmoil, or the feelings of Romina’s husband, are left unexplored. The film still achieves much despite this. It is, after all, an immense plot to undertake, so while there are failings, there is still a vast majority to enjoy. I was happy to revel in the atmosphere and substance of the film’s world, populated as it was by great performances.