The Place Beyond the Pines is a film of three parts, which, rather than revealing a conventional story arc, portrays lives within three generations – all scarred and shaped by small choices, large actions and the intertwined relationships of both those struggling to get by in life, and those with the chance of prominence and glory.
Each of the main character’s different personalities is emphasised by Director Derek Cianfrance’s application of shifting styles and tones. For Ryan Gosling’s Luke, see loud, erratic cinematography and an electric pace. For Bradley Cooper’s Avery, see a more stable yet edgy tempo, set in a murky, paranoid-filled backdrop of politics and corruption.
For the final chapter, a mostly depressing contemporary modern America is accentuated by bleak scenery, tones of emptiness, and despairing youths fuelled by frustration. This concluding episode is filmed with the anxiety of an imminent horrific occurrence a la We Need to Talk About Kevin. The suggestion of tragic conclusions (which has no-doubt worked its way into the American population’s psyche, through unfathomable crimes committed in recent years by the generation of ‘lost’ teens) is somewhat inevitable when you see the emotional struggles these young characters are forced to battle with.
Kudos to Cindy Tolan et al, as, after experiencing The Place Beyond the Pines you cannot imagine anyone else portraying the main characters. Due to Luke’s profession, you would imagine he would be almost a carbon copy of Gosling’s ‘Driver’ in Drive. Instead, the only similarity is the outbursts of violence each are prone to. Luke consistently finds himself in a much less self-controlled state than the cool Driver. He is always striving and struggling towards a shortcut of financial safety and social normality which seems to slip further from his grasp at every sharp turn.
All of the supporting cast provide accomplished performances, in particular, Eva Mendes and Ray Liotta. Mendes displays a maturity not seen in many of her previous roles – aided by remarkable make-up for her character’s twilight years.
Liotta is nothing short of sensational. Never mind Killing them Softly or Narc – two memorably intimidating performances. With Deluca, he is back to his menacing best. Deluca is a cold, sociopathic character who is constantly poised on the front foot and always ready and willing to manipulate and threaten any who get in the way of his bid to sneak a fortune.
One thing is for sure with The Place Beyond the Pines – whatever sort of film you think it is, however much you think you’ve worked out from its (refreshingly) unrevealing trailer, the film you will see is a completely different saga.
Cianfrance is an accomplished Director and the most impressive element of his craft here is his daring to deliver this story with such complex narrative devices and technical bravado – which, akin to Gosling’s daredevil Moto stunt rider – is seemingly chaotic but actually very calculated.
The Director’s experimental artistry verges on Avante-Garde at times and to exhilarating effect. His tutelage from Stan Brakhage clearly shines through and brings a raw naturalism to the The Place Beyond the Pines. His ability to subtly apply such artistry but still deliver a thrilling universal drama is reminiscent of Nicolas Winding Refn. And, like Refn, he is fast becoming one of the most appreciated and envied filmmakers working today.
Unfortunately, at times, Cianfrance’s vision becomes ambitious to a fault – especially in the final chapter where the drama is no longer supported by the appeal of two of the film’s main attractions. But apart from a few forgivably convoluted sequences and a drawn out finale, The Place Beyond the Pines is mature, layered, and full of allegory and metaphor for you to take home and ponder on for a few days (which you will).
Whether you decide you love it, hate it, or like me, you just still can’t decide on its level of accomplishment and brilliance – I hope you’ll agree – this type of powerful, thought-provoking filmmaking is what excites us about the cinema and instils us with an eagerness to return for more of the same.