In 2010 Blue Valentine changed the direction of two careers. One Ryan Gosling managed to shake off The Notebook with a performance a film with genuine emotional depth. Likewise its director, Derek Cianfrance, seems to have had no problems getting films made, having spent the decade before making documentaries for television.
The two are reunited in The Place Beyond The Pines which tells the stories of two men on opposing sides of the law. Luke (Ryan Gosling) is a young man who works as a motorbike stunt man for a traveling fair. He finds out early in the film he has a one-year old son, and makes the decision to quit his job to try and be make things work with his son’s mother Romina (Eva Mendes).
Luke soon realizes getting together enough money to look after them both is going to be a problem and decides to rob banks to get some cash together. This brings him to the attention of Avery (Bradley Cooper) a young police officer still to prove himself in the force.
If you have seen the film you will know it is difficult to talk about all the directions it pulls in without spoiling the experience if you have yet to see it. The rest of my review will contain no specific plot details, but I will not be offended if you stop reading now.
Good, because I was just kidding about the not being offended bit. Glad I know who my real friends are.
Anyway The Place Beyond The Pines is an incredibly ambitious and sprawling film that almost feels like a first-time film. By that I mean Cianfrance seems to have condensed a million and one ideas into 150 minutes of cinema. In that way it reminded me of films like Magnolia or even Badlands, in that although it has great characters, the film seems to be reaching beyond them and serving themes, rather than story or characters.
Specifically the theme of violence and the impact it has on its perpetrators and victims. The myth of redemptive violence is something I’ve spoken about before on this blog, and it is obvious the director has an opinion on the way police officers and members of the armed forces are treated as super-human, despite committing acts that actually dehumanise them.
This means the people treated as ‘heroes’ see themselves as quite the opposite and have no outlet to express that imbalance of emotions.
Beyond that the film looks at the impact of poverty, the modern family unit, police corruption, and revenge to create a film which has a clear sense of direction even if it is not obvious until well into the third act.
If there is a flaw it is in this third act which seems to lose the momentum already established in the first two acts. In some ways the last half hour feels more like an epilogue rather than a stand out piece of cinema. Perhaps this is because it is left to the younger members of the cast to carry the movie at this point, and it is difficult for them to compete with standards set by Gosling and Cooper in the previous acts of the film.
Despite this, it is a film easy to recommend. It is of the type Hollywood used to make in its golden era of the 1970s. That is films with weighty characters, weighty stories, weighty themes and a kind of reluctant masculinity. The Place Beyond The Pines may be a little flawed, but I think it’s in a good way.