There have been lots of films that deal with the idea of a cataclysmic event that changes the direction and narrative of the story. For instance, Sliding Doors uses the ‘what-if’ situation to basically tell to different stories of the same character, taking place in parallel to each other. It is this idea of ’cause and effect’ behind the third film by Blue Valentine director Derek Cianfrance; his second feature with man of the moment, Ryan Gosling.
The Place Beyond The Pines tells the story of circus stunt motorcyclist Luke Glanton (Gosling), who learns that he has a son, Jason, from a past fling with waitress Romina (Eva Mendes). Deciding that he wants to be in his son’s life, he decides to start robbing banks to provide for Jason and Romina. This soon culminates in a showdown with young cop Avery Cross (Bradley Cooper), leading to a new chapter in the film, as the repercussions of their encounter affects his life and those around him.
The Place… flows from one chapter into another and focuses on how one event can drastically change the lives of various people, regardless of their involvement. Normally, a film with two different viewpoints tend to be attached to one life or person, like Hilary & Jackie – yet it feels like two films, practically feature-length, are cut together. As a result, the characters’ respective screen times during both halves are noticeable; the first half is all Gosling whereas the second should have seen more of Cooper but instead is more of a cast ensemble piece.
To be honest, there is the same uncertain feeling that I had with Blue Valentine; as pretty as the film is – not to mention its beautiful landscapes and tracking shots, you feel that you should be reaffirmed that life is difficult and focuses on the flaws of people, regardless of their intentions. This essentially makes this a hard film to pin down – should we feel empathy and if so, for whom? It’s all quite confusing.
On the other hand, the performances are electric. Gosling incorporates the quiet yet dangerous vibe from Drive and therefore, puts in a great performance by saying very little. His portrayal of a reckless character whose hidden heart is in the right place essentially sets the standard for Cooper, whose ambitious yet clean-cut Avery is mostly dwarfed by the events in his own narrative, as well as the presence of other supporting characters, namely the now-teenage Jason (Dane DeHaan).
Great performances, interesting narrative although unevenly structured, The Place Beyond the Pines is very much a character drama.