It lures you in with a heart-pounding beginning, keeps you guessing during the middle, and has you on the edge of your seat at the end.
The Place Beyond the Pines
It would be easy to mistake The Place Beyond the Pines as a sequel to Drive as this film also stars Ryan Gosling as a stuntman turned getaway driver who is a soft-spoken badass that beats people with hardware tools. But I am here to tell you that The Place Beyond the Pines is not what you think it is; in more ways than one. Derek Cianfrance makes some interesting storyline decisions that I would consider spoilers if they were revealed, therefore, I will offer nothing more in this review than what the trailer does.
The Place Beyond the Pines contains of one of the best opening scenes that I have witnessed in some time. We see Luke Glanton (Ryan Gosling) without his shirt which exposes his fully tattooed body as he flips his butterfly knife back and forth. Still continuing in the same shot, he grabs his jacket, steps out of his trailer and walks through the buzzing sounds and bright flashing lights of carnival rides. The camera follows behind the bleach blond haired man while he lights up a cigarette and walks to the opposite end of the carnival up to a large tent. People are congregated outside and are eager to take his photo as he walks by. Just as he enters the tent an announcer introduces the motorcycle stuntman over the loudspeaker. When he reaches his bike we finally see his face for the first time, it also features a tattoo. Luke fastens his helmet before he and two others ride their bikes into a large metal ball cage and proceed to ride their bikes at top speeds past each other. All of the above had to be choreographed and perfectly timed as it happens in one continuous shot, lasting nearly a full three minutes.
Working as part of the traveling carnival brings Luke to Schenectady, New York where he runs into an old flame, Romina (Eva Mendes). It has been a year since they last saw each other and a lot has happened since. Romina is now dating another guy but the bigger news, as Luke soon discovers, is that she now has a three-month-old boy, and it is his. When Luke realizes that he cannot be a part of his son’s life, he at least feels obligated to provide for his son. The only problem is that his motorcycle stunts earn him more fans than it does income.
While blazing through a wooded trail on his dirt bike, Luke winds up meeting a mechanic named Robin (Ben Mendelsohn) who offers him a job fixing engines and a place to stay. Their friendship grows quickly but Luke’s bank account is not growing at that same rate. Robin feels bad that he does not have the amount of work Luke wishes in order to provide for his son. So he throws out a wild suggestion that even the thrill-seeking biker has to laugh at, which is to rob a bank. But Robin is not kidding around. He explains that he has done it four times in the past with success and knows he can do it again with Luke’s driving skills. The two will have to be clever to outwit the New York Police Department, especially the ambitious cop named Avery Cross (Bradley Cooper).
The Place Beyond the Pines feels like three separate films, each containing their own set of main characters, yet all remain connected at the same time. The first act is absolutely heart-pounding. It is focused entirely on Luke’s character and results in several armed bank robberies followed by high-speed pursuits. But then the film pumps its brakes and shifts its focus on the opposite side of the law for the second act. Avery ends up discovering that his own police department is corrupt and must decide whether to expose them or not. I will not even go into what the third act is about, just because it is better to experience it yourself firsthand.
One thing that I found particularly interesting is that everything in The Place Beyond the Pines has justification. The man who is robbing these banks is not doing it for self-gain, he is doing it to care for his infant son. Even the corrupt police department hints some of the shady acts are done for the greater good; such as when they plan to use some of the drug evidence from one case to catch drug criminals on another.
As a whole, the acting performances were all stunning. What may come as a shock to a lot of people is that the most impressive performance was not from Gosling, but rather from Cooper. Granted, Gosling gave a solid performance himself, but Cooper stood out as a smart cop who is stuck having to make difficult moral decisions. Mendelsohn did not have a particularly huge role yet he still managed to be a memorable character as a goofy and over-friendly mechanic. Eva Mendes and Ray Liotta are also good as they both tend to be.
For a film that is nearly two and half hours long, The Place Beyond the Pines seems to fly by. It lures you in with a heart-pounding beginning, keeps you guessing during the middle, and has you on the edge of your seat at the end. The film is a crime epic about how a single split second decision can have life lasting consequences. With the fantastic cinematography by Sean Bobbitt and a score that perfectly sets the unsettling tone of the film, The Place Beyond the Pines stands out as one of the better films of the year so far.