Ryan Gosling, Bradley Cooper and Eva Mendes front this astounding new film from Blue Valentine director Derek Cianfrance. Gosling plays a stunt motorcyclist, strapped for cash, who receives the news that he has a 1 year old son. The incurred responsibility, as well as a creepy new friend, pushes him to rob banks in order to provide and care for the kid. What follows is a 2+ hour exploration of human morality and the choices we make.
The Place Beyond The Pines is, quintessentially, a film about consequence and the reverberations your actions cause not to just to yourself, but the world around, be it a minor accident or life-changing decision. Marketed as some kind of a face off between Gosling and Cooper, it’s easy to be misled as to what the film actually entails. Structurally, it’s relatively brave and refreshing, Gosling’s character is killed off after the first hour, marking the departure from that thread into Bradley Cooper’s life as a ‘hero’ cop, riddled with guilt and trapped in a corrupt police department. Impressively, the shift in perspective is seamless and this is where the true strengths of the film come to the fore.
Verisimilitude is a term used to describe the ‘world of the film’ i.e. the world within which the film is set. Verisimilitudes differ from genre to genre and from film to film. Very often, the world presented to the audience is unbelievable and contrived as a result of genre conventions and filmic style. The Place Beyond The Pines differs in this respect, in that the events that unfurl on screen come across as effortlessly natural. Director Cianfrance clearly has a set vision for the environment and textural depth within the setting of his films. This much was clear in Blue Valentine and is even clearer in this instance. Of course, what aids this living, breathing on screen world is a set of excellent performances. Gosling, despite only having an hour of screen time, is a lingering presence long after his departure. This is perpetuated through an excellent screenplay that sews threads of life and circumstance through the whole narrative. The inevitability of the central pair’s two sons colliding in high school is admittedly a little contrived, however, due to the scope and magnitude of the film, doesn’t feel tacked on or out of place.
Aesthetically, The Place Beyond The Pines is absolutely beautiful. Heavy use of shallow focus stresses real importance in the characters and adds a dream-like feel, particularly during the first hour, after which the saturation seems to be dulled down to aid the gritty, realist turn taken by the narrative. The film is not something to glance at, it requires attention and immersion in order to reap the benefits. This makes it all the more worth it, especially when Bon Iver’s ‘The Wolves’ starts playing at the end of the film. A real sense of completion is what hangs in the air as the credits roll. The Place Beyond The Pines is one of the most satisfying dramas of the past five years; it’s ambitious, refreshing, but most importantly of all, retains an honest human element that so many contemporary films leave behind. There’s real heart and vigour to be found in a story that reminds all of us just what it means to be what we are and do what we do.