There were many reasons why I was looking forward to THE PLACE BEYOND THE PINES (besides its great cast and intriguing plot) but the main one being that this was the new film from director Derek Cianfrance, whose previous film was the absolutely terrific and powerful 2010 film BLUE VALENTINE. After seeing that one I definitely had high expectations to what he would bring out next and his latest film sounded like it would be right up my alley since I’m a big fan of crime films (plus I was excited that he would be re-teaming with his BLUE VALENTINE star Ryan Gosling as well).
The film tells the story of a motorcycle stuntman for a travelling carnival named Luke Glanton (Ryan Gosling) who, while performing in a small town, he meets up with an old fling that he met the year before named Romina (Eva Mendes). However Luke soon discovers to his shock that their fling resulted with Romina getting pregnant and giving birth to a baby boy. Knowing that he wants to be involved in his son’s life, Luke decides to give up his job of being a stuntman and decides to settle down in the small town to be near his family. He eventually finds a part-time job at a auto-repair shop that’s run by Robin (Ben Mendelsohn) and soon the pair form a good friendship. Luke starts to feel that he isn’t getting enough money from work to support his son, so Robin suggests to him that they should start robbing banks together in the local area since Robin use to do them many years earlier. Plus since Luke is a skilled motorcyclist, he would be able to do the robberies without being caught by the police. However after successfully robbing a few banks everything changes for Luke when he becomes pursued by a one police officer named Avery Cross (Bradley Cooper). What follow next changes the lives of both men forever.
I should state before I go on with the rest of my review that there is definitely a lot more to the plot than what I wrote here but I decided not to reveal anymore because, just like the film that I reviewed a few months back SIDE EFFECTS, this film really benefits without knowing too much about it. So I would suggest going into THE PLACE BEYOND THE PINES as blind as possible (surprisingly the trailers don’t even give away what the film is really about). However what I can say about it is that this is a sprawling, complex and exceptionally made film that had me hooked from beginning to end. It definitely could have been a straight forward crime drama but in co-writer/director Derek Cianfrance’s hands, he has created a far more ambitious film in both content and scope. He covers some really interesting and compelling themes/ideas (particularly in the 3rd act) that make it a much more powerful and thematically rich experience rather than just being a well crafted crime film. Plus at nearly 150 minutes, the film is in a way kind of mini-epic. Cianfrance’s direction is absolutely superb and there are some fantastically well-directed scenes through out (all the bank robbery scenes are all brilliantly staged) and his script (which he co-wrote with Ben Coccio and Darius Marder) is terrific as well.
Plus it helps that he has amazing cast of actors in this film as well: Ryan Gosling and Bradley Cooper both give exceptional performances in their roles of “Luke” and “Avery” respectively. Every time they were onscreen I couldn’t take my eyes of them, although I will admit that Gosling definitely has the more showier role of the two. Also the supporting cast (which include Rose Byrne, Ray Liotta, Bruce Greenwood, Harris Yulin) were all did fine with their roles but the ones who stood out to me the most Eva Mendes, Dane DaHaan and Ben Mendelsohn, these three were especially terrific. Plus the cinematography was fantastic (the opening 3 minute one-take shot was pretty cool), the score by Mike Patton was excellent and for a film that nearly runs for almost 2 and half hours, it was very well-paced and it never felt long at all.
In terms of negatives, I only have a few minor ones but one in particular I have with the film is the 3rd act. I know a lot of people who have seen the film have a lot of problems with that last half and while I did really like it overall but I do in fact have a few issues with it. I felt that it was a bit too rushed and even though I know it’s already a long film, I think the 3rd act would have been benefitted a lot more if it were 10-20 minutes longer. I know Cianfrance had some great themes that the wanted to explore during that last half but if the film were a little longer, it would have had a bit more of an impact. Also the film does feel rather disjointed at times with it comes to its plot (usually I would have a big problem with this but actually didn’t mind it at all here) and I thought that the talented Rose Byrne was a bit underused in the role of Avery’s wife “Jennifer”.
Overall despite those minor flaws, THE PLACE BEYOND THE PINES is a truly exceptionally film that is definitely up there as one of the best films I’ve seen so far in 2013. I must admit that it’s a film that I really need to see again as soon as possible so that I can fully grasp it as a viewer and I can see myself loving it more and more on rewatches, so don’t be surprised if my rating changes the next time I see it (I was worried that I wouldn’t able to articulate how I really felt about it after one watch, hence why I need to see again). If you haven’t seen it yet, definitely check it out as soon as possible.
Review written by Bede Jermyn