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Review: The Place Beyond the Pines (2013)

The Place Beyond the Pines (2013)

Directed by: Derek Cianfrance

Premise: A three-part story. In part one, a stunt motorcyclist (Ryan Gosling) turns to bank robbery to provide for his family. In part two, a rookie cop (Bradley Cooper) discovers a ring of corruption in his police department. In part three, the sons of the motorcyclist (Dane DeHaan) and the police officer (Emory Cohen) encounter each other in high school.

What Works: The Place Beyond the Pines is an ambitious story of crime and punishment. This movie has a lot going for it by way of the central cast but also in the supporting performances by Mahershala Ali, Eva Mendes, and Rose Byrne. The moviemaking is also consistently impressive, especially the use of lighting and the generally understated music score. But the feature of The Place Beyond the Pines that stands out the most is its story structure. The decision to tell three stories rather than one overarching narrative is bold and unlike anything else in mainstream American cinema at the moment. When contemporary filmmakers have tried this kind of broad storytelling they have often crosscut the narratives as in Crash, Babel, and Cloud Atlas. Sometimes this is appropriate and amplifies the thematic connections between plotlines, but keeping the events linear in The Place Beyond the Pines really works for this film. The first part is a heist story in which a man turns to crime to fulfill his obligations as a father. Luke, a journeyman performer played by Ryan Gosling, finds himself obligated to settle down when he discovers that a past fling produced a son. His efforts to insert himself into his son’s life have a lot of authenticity and make his robberies about more than greed. The second section reverses and complicates the first scenario as a police officer, played by Bradley Cooper, confronts corruption and tries to make the best choices in situations with no satisfactory solutions. Stories about police corruption are fairly commonplace but this film does it well and provides a nuanced and complicated portrayal of loyalty, integrity, and heroism. The final part of The Place Beyond the Pines is a story of wasted youth in which the sons of these two men must cope with their fathers’ sins. This is by far the riskiest of the three sections and the degree to which the filmmakers succeed is impressive. The premise of the third part relies on a contrivance as these two boys end up in high school together. If this had been only a coda sequence it might have ruined the movie but because the filmmakers carry it out and make a full-fledged narrative out of it they get away with the coincidence. This final act pulls the themes of the first two sections together and presses them forward, bringing the film to a provocative, if somewhat vague, conclusion.

What Doesn’t: Between the second and third sections of The Place Beyond the Pines, the story leaps forward fifteen years. When the narrative picks up there has been some severe changes in the lives of these families but a lot of that is unexplored and unexplained. For the most part that is just as well, since the film provides the audience with what they need to know, but the characterization of the boys is lacking, especially for AJ, the son of the former police officer, played by Emory Cohen. It is strange that both AJ and Jason have virtually identical dress, tastes, and lifestyles even though they clearly grew up amid very different circumstances. This similarity is probably an intentional dramatic irony but as characters the two young men are so similar that it difficult to distinguish them.

Bottom Line: The Place Beyond the Pines is a serious and provocative film about choices and consequences. It is challenging in the way its filmmakers ask the audience complicated questions about integrity and responsibility but it is also a very well made movie with some terrific performances. 

Episode: #437 (May 5, 2013)