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Review of ‘The Place Beyond the Pines’

Published 1:19pm Saturday, April 6, 2013

The Place Beyond the Pines, directed by Derek Cianfrance (Blue Valentine), is an epic film that depicts the complicated relationship between fathers and sons and its effects over generations. It is one of those movies you want to discuss immediately when you walk out of the theater. Not because it is the best movie you have ever seen, but because the plot doesn’t follow the typical Hollywood formula; it is unique and at times very surprising. One twist in particular will make you gasp and whisper “WHAT?!” After the screening, I even went back and re-watched the trailer to make sure my shock was warranted. It was.

Cianfrance takes an ambitious risk with the content of this film. Without giving too much away, the plot can be broken down into three distinct parts—each is almost a movie in itself. While I appreciate this unique type of storytelling, the film is hurt by the fact that it is too long (over two hours) and at times felt like it was sacrificing character development by cramming too much into the plot. However, even with these criticisms, I can’t help but appreciate where the film took me morally and emotionally. It’s not every day that a film leaves you with such an impression.

Because I hate spoilers and try to make my reviews as spoiler-free as possible, it has proven difficult to write this review. I want audiences to be surprised and see “The Place Beyond the Pines” with few expectations. In fact, the film will resonate best if the audience knows as little as possible about the plot before going in.

The one specific spoiler I will gladly divulge, for the sake of anyone who has longed to be picked up in the ocean while hearing “If you’re a bird, I’m a bird”, is that the film begins with a close-up of Ryan Gosling’s abs (Cianfrance really knows how to begin a movie).

“Handsome Luke” (Gosling) is a tattooed stunt biker, who rides his motorcycle in a traveling carnival’s Globe of Death. Luke is the star of the show and can easily get girls in every town. It isn’t until he meets Romina (Eva Mendes), however, that things change.

Romina is Luke’s “girl” in Schenectady, New York and as it turns out, gave birth to his child during the year it took him to circle back to town with the show. In an effort to not repeat the sins of his own father, Luke decides to quit the show and remain in town to be with his family. The only problem is, Romina lives with another man who can provide for her and her son, whereas Luke has barely any money to his name. In an effort to win back his family, Luke decides to rob banks and use his motorcycle expertise to escape the law. After many successful heists, the situation changes when Luke crosses paths with rookie policeman Avery (Bradley Cooper). THAT is all I can and will say.

The acting in The Place Beyond the Pines is what really makes the film successful. Gosling once again excels at playing the charming, yet conflicted bad boy who woos the audience’s sympathies despite his poor life choices. Gosling is the heart and soul of the film. He convincingly reveals his character’s aspiration to be the best father he can be despite the immeasurable odds against him. Not to mention, only Gosling can make a face tattoo look cool (I’m looking at you Mike Tyson).

This film also features Bradley Cooper in his best role yet. His performance as a conflicted police officer, with his own personal demons, shows he is an actor that can consistently turn out solid performances. Because the theme of the film focuses on the relationship between fathers and sons, the roles of Eva Mendes and Rose Byrne were pretty expendable; any actress could have played the parts. The other standout supporting performances in the film were Ray Liotta, as a crooked cop, and Dane DeHaan (whose role I cannot reveal).

Along with the acting and plot twists, the cinematography in the film is top-notch. Especially wonderful was the tracking shot at the beginning of the film that follows Luke from his trailer, through the carnival, finally landing on the Globe of Death; this simple shot really sets the tone of the film. The audience feels like it is in the scene and not just passively observing the action.

Another visually stunning scene involves Luke speeding down a rural road with the camera following him from above. This image brings your thoughts back to a critical line in the film, “If you ride like lightning, you’re going to crash like thunder.” I realized that by speeding away on his bike, Luke is not only trying to escape from police, but is also trying to escape from the personal struggles in his life.

The Place Beyond the Pines is an ambitious film that has the feeling of an Americana novel.

While the film may drag at times, I can’t imagine anyone would leave the theater wanting their money back.

If you hate spoilers like I do, I would definitely try to see this one as soon as possible.

Rating: B+/A-

LAUREN BRADSHAW grew up in Courtland, graduated from Southampton Academy and doubled-majored in foreign affairs and history at the University of Virginia. She lives in the Washington, D.C., and can be reached at lnb5e@virginia.edu.

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