The Place Beyond The Pines
An early contender for most contrived film of the year, Matt Smith reviews The Place Beyond the Pines…
Synopsis: Luke Glanton (Ryan Gosling) is a motorcycle stunt driver travelling across America as one third of Handsome Luke and the Heartthrobs. On returning to another previously visited and indistinguishable small town Luke discovers he’s fathered a son with one night stand Romina (Eva Mendes). Deciding to stay and insert himself into Romina and Jason’s life, Luke sets in motion a series of events that will impact his family and those around him for generations to come.
Review: The Place Beyond the Pines is undone by its own desire to be epic. The generation spanning narrative creates a set of contrivances that, depending on your perspective, will grate incredibly or add to the films unearthly, mythical quality. The narrative concerns itself centrally with the idea that the actions of the father impact the life of the son, this means we’re given a first act full of intensity and ideas followed by two subsequent acts that spend their time unpicking the mess made by the films opening hour. The plotting can subsequently feel a little functional with the director barely able to contain, or for that matter hide, his desire to show the audience the clever ways he symbiotically connects his characters over the films twenty year lifespan.
The scale of the narrative also means that everything is necessarily dialled up to ten. Other epic dramas create peaks and troughs in the narrative whilst The Place Beyond the Pines feels like one long ascent. Leaving little time for character reflection and feeling occasionally like we’re charging head first towards a conclusion. That’s not to say it isn’t an engaging and enjoyable watch with great central performances. Ben Mendelsohn stands out particularly as Luke’s partner in crime, Robin. Whilst an increasingly impressive Bradley Cooper is great as the conflicted young cop Avery Cross. The film also manages to maintain an intimate feel with smaller, quieter moments helping to anchor the expansive narrative. The secret to enjoying The Place Beyond the Pines might be to ignore its gritty authenticity and traditional generic concerns as red herrings. The film should instead be seen as the mythic Greek tragedy that it is attempting to be. Otherworldly and unreal.
The Best: The Place Beyond the Pines is unapologetically ambitious and whilst the tidiness of its final resolution is somewhat incompatible with this, its desire to be epic whilst remaining intimate should be applauded. The soundtracks good too.
The Worst: After an engrossing first act the film begins to feel slightly contrived, working too hard to justify its central theme. It moves from believable melodrama / heist movie into corrupt cop / teen drama territory, mainly due to director Derek Cianfrance’s determination to play out the father son relationship’s set up at the films outset.
Verdict: A brilliant first hour followed by ninety minutes of cinema that is possibly too smart for its own good. The Place Beyond the Pines has great performances and a fantastically ambitious script that just maybe bites off more than it can chew.
Celluloid Influences: Drive + East of Eden = The Place beyond the Pines