Directed by: Derek Cianfrance
Starring: Ryan Gosling, Bradley Cooper, Eva Mendes, Dane DeHaan, Emory Cohen, Ray Liotta, Rose Byrne, Ben Mendelsohn, Mahershala Ali, Harris Yulin, Bruce Greenwood, Robert Clohessy
Written by: Derek Cianfrance, Ben Coccio, Darius Marder
This isn't an easygoing film.
The sins of the father are central to the plot in a masterful cycle of history repeating itself. Sons rebel against fathers and have to deal with their pasts, of all three generations present, in explosive form. The film's only downfall is the structure and pacing of the acts - the first two race by, while the last one trundles along. If you're looking for a film to watch that doesn't make you work and reflect; this isn't it. 'The Place Beyond The Pines' is a very visceral and real film. It doesn't try to dress up or hide anything; it lays it's raw beating heart in all three acts directly before the audience and forces them to not just ingest but to digest and to consider. As the film moves on, the audience is slowly sucked into the world of Schenectady in New York, in a parachute fall of despair (which seeps through the entire film) into a world where the characters are not only immersive, but engagingly self-destructive. The film drops the audience into the harshest moments in the lives of it's characters; moments which end up defining them or ruling them. Though at times, it is hard to discern whether the moment is a product of the character or vice-versa. And that is where the beauty of this film comes from.
Ryan Gosling's 'Luke' certainly has echoes of James Dean and Steve McQueen; not the only parts of the film that induces old greats from American cinema. The film is set over 15 years in three distinct story arcs; the first one featuring Luke, the second with lawyer-turned-rookie policeman Avery Cross (Bradley Cooper), and the last act featuring their children. There are a few endearing, even funny moments in the film.
The first act is about motorcycle stuntman Luke Glanton who works with a traveling circus; during a stop in Schenectady, he meets Romina (Eva Mendes), who is a fling from the past. Both still are dealing with feelings for each other, despite Romina now living with her new boyfriend, Kofi (Mahershala Ali). Luke discovers that Romina has hidden the fact that she was pregnant and is now raising their child; a point which forces Luke to reflect on his own absentee father and how he wants to be there for his child. He ends up quitting the circus and staying in Schenectady where he befriends Robin (Sam Mendelsohn) - a mechanic who gives him a place to stay and a minimum wage job. When Luke wants to provide for 'his' family, Robin suggests that he put his "unique skill set" to use robbing banks, as he had done, previously. The first act is finely woven together by raw filmmaking; the appearance of shaky handheld cameras that grow ever more nervous in pursuit sequences or an almost motion-sickness inducing camera shot from what appears to be the side of a motorcycle, or even the dashboard cameras employed in the chase sequences - it puts the audience directly in the seat of the action. Rather than just telling the story, the camera comes alive with perspective.
The second act focuses on Avery Cross whose story crosses paths with Luke Glanton with drastic consequences. Like Luke, he also has an infant son that he needs to be a father too - but he has his own issues to deal with, including corruption in the police force and pressure from his powerful father (Harris Yulin), a former judge. Avery's character isn't all together consistent; initially conflicted, he ends up quitting a corrupt police force, only to strong-arm his way into the District Attorney's office thanks to the machinations of his father.
The final act deals with the sons of Luke and Avery; Jason (Dane DeHaan) and AJ (Emory Cohen) respectively. While the first two acts were created around the charismatic presence of its male leads, the last one focuses on the instinctive kinship that initially forms between the two teenagers and the inevitable downward spiral of devolution once their father's pasts are revealed. In the conclusion, all the characters are forced to confront the choices that they made - and where those choices will take them.
The film itself is nothing short of a masterclass in turning points and the ability to create a perennial atmosphere. Cianfrance carefully, with the help of cinematographer Sean Bobbitt (whose credits include "United 93" and "Shame") and a haunting score composed by Mike Patton, creates a world that draws the audience in and doesn't let them go; while the third act does force reflection and is important in understanding the characters, the rest of the film doesn't let up. Cianfrance also seems to be happy creating worlds in which there's no hero to root for; no good endings - everything just becomes murky and characters have different levels. In today's day and age, where audiences are expecting to be spoon-fed information and direction due to the exceedingly high competition in the film industry, it's a risky move that strikes bold tones. You can't just cheer for the anti-hero Luke or the sometimes-stoic Avery; the lines get blurred and the tone is lost. It does something rare in contemporary feature film; it truly leaves judgement up to the audience. It shows that we are all capable of falling, of redemption and of inevitability. There's also a sense of futility that drips slowly throughout the entire film.
It may not be entirely like Cianfrance's last outing, "Blue Valentine", but it certainly bears all the hallmarks of it. There's a raw intimacy and almost claustrophobic sense of being forced to deal with guilt and pain - just like "Blue Valentine", it doesn't give much breathing room during the thrill ride.
The transitions in the film are the key to it all; the transition of father to son, of redemption to sin, of sin to redemption - even between scenes. The editors make use of both jumpy cuts to help create a choppy narrative, but also make use explicitly of crossfades - which, in some way, reflect onto the film itself as all three acts fade constantly between each other in the minds of the audience.
What the Mr thought:
A film well worth seeing if you're after some serious drama or reflection; it won't be an easy film to watch, but it is definitely entertaining. It doesn't just tell a story; it absorbs you into it.
What the Misses thought:
Well...what can I say about this film? It was tough to watch. But that is what made it so good. The characters went full circle and I thought that was very cleverly constructed. If you want a film that isn't going to make you think or reflect, this film isn't for you. If you want a film that you are drawn into, reflect upon and is just so powerful, then The Place Beyond The Pines is for you.
But you didn't hear it from us,
Mr & Misses