Returning to the director’s chair after his hit indie film Blue Valentine, with The Place Beyond the Pines Derek Cianfrance proves that he can be considered a truly great, new director. A sprawling two and half hour long epic, The Place Beyond the Pines is a story in three parts that delves into themes of morality, determinism, and closely examines the effects fathers have on their children, and visa-versa. This film is an emotional powerhouse, with a fantastic performance from Ryan Gosling, as well as strong performances all around. Expecting to dislike this movie, I was absolutely blown away by the film.
The film takes place in the small New York town of Schenectady, which interestingly enough is a name loosely taking from a Mohawk word that translates to “Place Beyond the Pines.” The movie first centers on Ryan Gosling as “Handsome” Luke Glanton, a professional and heavily tattooed motorcycle rider who goes city to city with a traveling carnival. However he gives this life up when he is informed that a woman he has slept with in Schenectady is raising his now one year old son. Luke turns to a life of crime and starts robbing banks in order to provide for his newly born son. Bradley Cooper’s character Avery, a police man and moral paragon, is then introduced and the film shifts its focus to a tale of police corruption and Avery’s struggle with it. Finally, the third and most interesting act of the film is about the friendship and conflict between the sons of the earlier protagonists, as they struggle with their respective relationships with their fathers, as well as dealing with the history between Luke and Avery.
While much of the talk about this film has been glowing praise for Ryan Gosling (let’s be honest here, this is nothing new, he’s great), the acting all around is pretty excellent. Specifically, Eva Mendes’s portrayal of Luke Glanton’s poverty stricken baby mama is a step away from her usual roles, as well as a highlight of the film. However, some of the best acting in the film comes from Dane DeHaan, who is likely best known as the lead in last year’s found footage superhero flick, Chronicle. As Luke’s 17 year old son, DeHaan is tragic and compelling, bringing a much needed emotional center to the latter half of the film.
What makes this film achieve a level of excellence, however, is not the acting but rather the thematic through lines of the film. The film is ambitious in its approach to tackling issues of paternal relationships, as well as morality, which raises an interesting conversation about how morality relates to cultural standards and laws. At the same time, the film does a perfect job of not overextending thematically, by which I mean the film doesn’t try to tackle anything that was too lofty to wrap up by the end. This movie leaves the viewer with a desire to ponder the films themes, without leaving any serious unanswered questions. It’s a hugely emotional film, as well as a film with just the perfect amount of depth. I could not recommend this film more highly.
Rating: 5 out of 5