Ryan Gosling reunites with his Blue Valentine director Derek Cianfrance for The Place Beyond the Pines, a riveting generational crime drama that explores the lifelong consequences a father’s actions can have on his son. A sprawling narrative that shifts between multiple protagonists, Pines is being billed as an action movie when in fact it’s more of a familial study that contains performances that are career highlights for practically its entire cast. This is one that cinephiles won’t want to miss.
Gosling plays Luke Glanton, a motorcycle stunt rider who works with a travelling carnival. He’s covered in tattoos, wears a beat-up Metallica t-shirt, plays with a butterfly knife, and has some pretty impressive moves on a bike. When the carnival rolls back into Schenectady, New York, Glanton encounters an old one-night stand, Romina, played wonderfully by a subdued Eva Mendes, who reveals that she’s just given birth to Glanton’s infant son. Wanting to do the right thing, he quits his job and stays in town to help raise the baby. Glanton takes a gig working at a garage for a shady dude named Robin, played by The Dark Knight Rises actor Ben Mendelsohn, and soon they’re utilizing Glanton’s moto skillz to pull off exciting bank robberies, with Robin driving the getaway truck.
After a long chase following one of the bank robberies, the film’s perspective switches to rookie cop Avery Cross, played by the clean-shaven Bradley Cooper. He takes a bullet while bringing Glanton to justice, but the movie loses steam as it sifts through some typical “injured hero” tropes and introduces crooked members of the police force, led by Ray Liotta. As a new father himself, Cross is shocked to discover Glanton also had a son, and he’s broken up about taking the boy’s father away from him. Fifteen years pass, and the POV switches yet again to Glanton’s now-grown son Jason, played by Dane DeHaan. He interacts with Cross’s son, a wigger with a bad attitude, and as the story comes to a head, events from the past are brought into focus for characters in the present, resulting in compelling face-offs, a few beatings, and an intense interrogation in the woods.
Cianfrance manages to give the movie meaning despite the fractured narrative, weaving themes and deep connections between protagonists and providing a sense of inevitability while somehow simultaneously cultivating a feeling that anything can happen. Weird, I know. It’s a neat trick, and searing performances from DeHaan and Gosling in particular add an emotional component that occasionally lacks when they’re not on screen. The action is well staged and well shot, and though comparisons to Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive can (and will) be made, Cianfrance is not interested in recreating someone else’s world. He has his own detailed playground here full of his own fascinating ideas, but aside from Gosling playing a similar badass-with-a-heart-of-gold character, there is another cool reference I picked out: during a chase sequence, the camera stays inside the car that trails Gosling’s motorcycle, a reversal of how the camera stayed inside Driver’s car in the opening chase of Drive.
If you’re looking to get your money’s worth at the theater, The Place Beyond the Pines is the way to go: it’s basically three movies in one, and terrific acting, solid action, and mesmerizing cinematography ultimately outweigh an occasionally overwrought narrative. By the time you get to the end, it feels as if the movie has come in waves, with the events in the beginning seeming as if they happened ages ago and only a distorted ripple stretching out and affecting the action in the third act. It’s an original, audacious movie, and despite the fact that it doesn’t quite come together as cohesively as Cianfrance would like, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t encourage him to continue making thoughtful dramas like this as he moves forward. Until next time…