Directed by: Derek Cianfrance
In ‘The Place Beyond the Pines’ Derek Cianfrance goes for epic, harking back to the seventies golden era of one hundred and twenty minute plus masterpieces. Nowadays it seems the today’s movies can’t quite capture the share scope, complex characterisation and imagination of yesteryear, when the likes of Scorsese, Coppola and Lumet made great movies in the kind of grand scale which is more befitting of a gold standard twelve episode HBO series. ‘The Place Beyond the Pines’ is a three act film. The first act concentrates on Ryan Gosling as the bad boy dirt biker who goes from circus stuntman to bank robber. This first act then crosses over into Bradley Cooper’s cop with a conscience story arc and then in the final act we see the next generation of sons who look likely to veer off into self-destruction and deviancy.
Critics have been harsh about the final two acts, compared to the crash and burn opening from the moment when Bradley Cooper is recuperating in hospital things slow down considerably. Cooper doesn’t quite seem right for his role, more in age than anything else. When the film fast forwards about fifteen years Cooper look doesn’t change all that much. I suppose a wiser, older head could’ve been cast, but given Cooper’s talent he makes the role work despite the age authenticity question marks.
Cianfrance has a great premise with the idea of a daredevil stunt biker who turns into daring criminal, but I don’t necessarily think that the baton change, which holds the movie together, works all that well. Certainly the trailer for the movie misleads us into the significance of Gosling’s role. In terms of time spent in the film, and I’m being deliberately careful not to spoil this movie, Cooper it could be argued is very much the lead. The film follows him from rookie cop to becoming District Attorney. But the interest, the captivating performance, comes from Gosling in his brief role as Handsome Luke.
I don’t know, maybe it could be argued that Cianfrance could’ve stretched out Gosling’s story over the entire movie, but he wanted to create a bigger story, one that spans generations, Fathers and sons and their fractured relationships. There’s Gosling, the wayward rebellious biker who finds out he has a son and then tries to become a provider, forgetting that Fatherhood is more than just being a breadwinner. There’s Cooper’s Avery Cross, who in his hour need finally turns to his Father when he’s staring down the barrel of a gun. And then finally we have AJ and Jason, who need the stable presence of a supportive Father to keep them on the straight and narrow.
I think the strongest performance in the movie comes from Ben Mendelsohn as Robin, a roughneck mechanic, and semi-retired bankrobber who becomes a surrogate Father figure for Gosling’s Luke. Mendelsohn encourages Luke, gives him a home and a job, helps him to rob banks, but quickly finds himself cast aside when Luke wants to do a double bank job, a plan so outrageous and ambitious that it scares Robin away.
Certainly Derek Cianfrance has a wonderful style, and is able to get performances from his actors. What hampers him is that his good ideas and concepts lack the killer big ending that ‘The Place Beyond the Pines’ deserves.