The Place Beyond the Pines somehow managed to sneak past many movie goers this year. It wasn’t heavily advertised and didn’t seem to get a whole lot of buzz, which is strange considering the promising cast and director. I’m here to say that after seeing this film (with many thanks to my local cinema for showing it), I am still not sure how this New York state-set crime drama managed to stay under the radar.
The film stars Ryan Gosling as Luke, a traveling motorcycle stunt performer. One of his shows stops in Altamont, New York, where Luke sees an old friend named Romina (Eva Mendes). The two discuss a fling they had the last time he was in town almost a year ago, which leaves Luke looking to reconnect. Luke winds up discovering Romina has a baby, and even more to his surprise that he is the father. With this news, he makes the bold decision stay put and support Romina and their baby.
Unfortunately things don’t go as smoothly as Luke would like though, as Romina is already in another relationship, and Luke doesn’t have means to support a family. He takes up a job as a mechanic with Robin (Ben Mendelsohn), but it still barely makes ends meet. Robin reveals that he robbed banks many years ago, which at first puts Luke off but the more Robin makes it seem doable the more Luke takes the bait. Before you know it the two come up with a scheme to hit up a few banks, utilizing Luke’s specialized riding skills to assist in their getaway plan.
Their plans work out initially and Luke earns some cash. He starts to get closer with Romina and his baby Jason too. It’s not before long things go awry though, as the heat moves in. College educated rookie-cop Avery (Bradley Cooper) pursues Luke on a heist gone wrong. The encounter changes their lives and the lives of those around them drastically, and I mean drastically.
The film soon takes a different turn, following a different series of events. In order to avoid spoiling anything, all I can say is that the film shifts its focus from different characters more than once. There is a lot to do with the corrupt police force and how Avery deal’s with it, among other conflicts he’s come to face in addition to the confrontation with Luke. There’s a lot going on, a lot to due with cause and effect, family, politics, and just choices people make.
What’s not to like about this cast? Ryan Gosling really can do no wrong lately. He brings his A-game here as the tough, slovenly protagonist who at least has his heart in the right place despite the bad situations he puts himself in. Bradley Cooper is also exceptional as Avery, who I haven’t been a fan of in the past but since The Words and Silver Linings Playbook he’s definitely doing some awesome movies lately. While the supporting cast is also equally well placed, I must add that a couple of the characters are either incredibly annoying or do things that don’t make a whole lot of sense. Not only are one character’s mannerisms so unbearable to watch, the fact the character was written that way just doesn’t really add up. These are minor details, but really this was a near perfect film so those are the things that stick out.
This is again one of those films that isn’t really a feel-good movie. There’s a lot of ill feelings and anger throughout the movie. The conclusion honestly doesn’t offer much satisfaction or redemption, but that’s really not a bad thing. As with my recent review of the German film The Silence, I really am partial to films that take this approach, and by that I mean they don’t try to satisfy the audience but rather follow the chain of events more realistically. Cianfrance is able to capture this through his direction successfully, as he was with Blue Valentine. The woods, the quiet small town feel, the roar of Luke’s motorcycle, the Mike Patton score, all elements that come together to combine the right moods to give you the right not-so-good feeling.
It really is a shame this film hasn’t been talked about more, but then again I really shouldn’t be surprised as this isn’t the type of film that tickle’s most people’s fancy. I hope it will get more recognition, perhaps during awards season, as there really is a lot to appreciate. For me, I loved the atmosphere, the unexpected turn of events and the different narratives the film ended up having. You also really just can’t go wrong with Ryan Gosling in this kind of role either. Aside from some complaints with how some of the characters were written, I enjoyed just about everything about this film.