With the Place beyond the Pines, Derek Cianfrance reunites with his star from his first movie (Blue Valentine) Ryan Gosling. The movie is an epic tale spanning two generations and had this movie been called Les Misérables it wouldn’t have been off as it is dark gloomy and depressing.
The story starts as Ryan Gosling’s carnival daredevil (aptly named) Handsome Luke walks from the trailer to the tent where he will be performing his motorcycle riding stunts. Once the stunt is over we are introduced the enchanting Eva Mendes who is almost unrecognizable Romina, the waitress Luke had a one night fling a year ago which resulted in a child which Romina is bringing up with another man. This is the catalyst that compels Luke to mend his nomadic ways and we see the yearning and the longing in his eyes as he wishes to settle down and raise his son which he wasn’t even aware of. We see it in Romina’s eyes also that she longs to be with Luke but her current boyfriend provides her the stability she needs to support her mother and child.
We are also introduced to Robin played to drunken buffoon perfection by Ben Mendelsohn who becomes fast friends with Luke, offers him a place to stay and a job. It is Robin who suggests to Luke that he take to robbing banks to support his child. Luke’s daredevilry comes in handy as he uses his motorcycling abilities to escape with the loot. Luke wants to go big after a few small heists and wants to rob 2 banks one after the other and Robin backs out. This is where Luke runs into the rookie cop Avery played by Bradley Cooper. Giving up what transpires between the two would be to spoil the shock factor of the movie so I won’t but suffice to say that there is a very intense chase sequence which also shows that Cianfrance has an eye for the visual artistry as well.
From here on the plot meanders a bit with and the pacing of the narrative slows down considerably. Things become more miserable for all involved to the point that the beautiful sweeping sunrises and sunsets shot exquisitely by Sean Bobbit seem to be mocking the characters deeply entrenched in their gloom. The atmosphere becomes so excruciatingly suffocating that you feel the characters hopelessness and despair.
The final act of the film involves the sons of both Avery and Luke and how their paths cross and how they learn how their pasts and paths are interlinked. Dane DeHaan who plays Luke’s teenaged son shows why is being touted as one of the upcoming young actors to watch out for. Ray Liota plays the dirty cop like no one in Hollywood can.
The choice of music is curious and at times jarring and at times oddly amusing especially when Ryan Gosling dancing with a puppy to a Hall and Oats song. The story co-written by Derek Cianfrance is not the easiest story to sit through, there is a lot of sorry and tragedy and at times the narrative seems to wander around aimlessly. Till the final 10 minutes of the movie I was beginning to get frustrated as I couldn’t see a way how Cianfrance would take this story to any conclusion let alone one that I could consider as a “happy ending”. But he does manage to pull everything together to some extent and finish on what could possibly be deemed as a happier ending than any of the scenarios I saw the movie heading towards.
It is a hard movie to recommend but I find it just as hard to ask people to stay away from it . Derek Cianfrance is a director to watch out for, Eva Mendes is the best she’s been and Bradley Cooper is solid as the rookie cop. Ryan Gosling has had my attention front and center since Lars and the real girl and is one actor I’d watch in absolutely anything (Crazy Stupid Love!!!). Watch this movie but brace yourself to being pulled into the character’s tragedy.