Published on April 26th, 2013 | by Jeff Derrickson0
The Place Beyond the Pines Review
Summary: A lengthy crime drama that falls just short of perfection.
Director Derek Cianfrance isn’t afraid to swing for the fences. When he goes for something, he goes all the way. “Blue Valentine,” about a marriage falling apart, is one of the most ultra-depressing films of all time. His follow-up, “The Place Beyond the Pines,” is an earnest attempt at an epic crime drama about fathers, sons, and a tragic cycle that spans generations. And for large chunks of its sprawling tale, its grand ambitions achieve greatness.
The film starts quite small, centering on a motorcycle stuntman named Luke Glanton (Ryan Gosling) who works for a traveling carnival. While working in Schenectady, NY, he runs into a woman named Romina (Eva Mendes), whom he discovers he impregnated the year before. A lost soul seeking purpose in his life, Glanton quits the carnival to stay in town and try to provide for her and their son. Unfortunately, Glanton has trouble finding steady work, so he puts his motorcycle skills to use by robbing banks. Without giving too much away, that is only the tip of the iceberg, and the film takes some unexpected turns, including one moment fairly early on that drastically shifts gears and made most people in the audience gasp.
Much like he did in “Drive,” Gosling expertly portrays a quiet, troubled (slightly psychotic) young man with a good heart whom we sense is always on the verge of resorting to violence. The dangerous loner hasn’t been nailed like Gosling has him pegged since DeNiro’s heyday back in “Taxi Driver,” and it probably won’t be topped for an equally long period of time. Eva Mendes is surprisingly convincing and authentic as a waitress just scraping by. She looks tired and stressed, and some of that credit goes to make-up, but that is only icing on an already impressive performance.
The entire cast is solid and at the top of their game, including Ray Liota as a crooked cop, Ben Mendelsohn as Glanton’s bank-robbing accomplice, and Bradley Cooper as a local rookie cop whose life gets intertwined with Glanton’s in surprising ways. In fact, Cooper in particular gives his best performance yet. He competently balances a complex character who is an idealist but not too stupid to realize the corrupt world in which he lives. He is a character who grows and makes compromises, and Cooper smoothly handles his transformation. Some of the younger actors, including Dane DeHaan (who was excellent in “Chronicle”), are just as good, but I’m avoiding discussing their roles lest I spoil the third act.
Cianfrance’s direction is confident, stylish, and languid. He soaks up every moment, lets it breathe, and pushes it to its maximum potential. The film makes room for both an extremely touching moment where Glanton feeds his baby ice cream for the first time and a cemetery chase that is one of the most exciting chase scenes ever committed to film. Glanton’s motorcycle darts between tombstones as a cop pursues along the cemetery road. The sense of speed in the film’s handful of chase scenes is unparalleled. Cianfrance’s style also seems to expand along with the film, from a gritty 70s-style character study into something more.
Some might even argue it’s a tad too confident and willing to bask in its own greatness. “The Place Beyond the Pines” is quite long and episodic in nature, and while it strives to be an epic with one overarching story, to many it will feel like nearly three separate films. At two hours and twenty minutes, it feels no shorter than three hours. That is not to say it’s tedious—it’s never less than captivating—but it really does just go on forever. There are multiple points where the story feels like it has reached its logical conclusion only for the film to go on another half hour. Thankfully, the destination ends up being worth the long ride, but the somewhat disjointed narrative might also put off viewers. It doesn’t help that the second and third acts never achieve the same heights as the stellar first act, and the third act feels a bit contrived. They are still quite good, but the opening act sets a high bar that the rest of the film isn’t quite able to live up to.
Despite its faults, and sometimes because of them, “The Place Beyond the Pines” is an ambitious must-see for fans of crime dramas. It proves you don’t have to be perfect to deliver something truly rare and special.