"The Place Beyond the Pines" (2013)- Movie Review

Written and directed by Derek Cianfrance
Also written by Ben Coccio and Darius Marder
Starring Ryan Gosling, Eva Mendes and Bradley Cooper

‘A Multi-Generational Masterpiece’

Ambition is one of the rarest things in the filmmaking industry. To be honest, one seldom ever finds it in latest movies. While it is more common in other fields such as technology and even writing, ambition only once in a while shows up in a movie. Why is this? Are directors too afraid of taking risks or do studios fear that they will make a mistake?

Well, there is no real answer. And that is what I fail to comprehend. There certainly are ambitious movies; take James Cameron’s “Titanic” or even last year’s “Les Miserables” into account. Yet the trend in this kind of filmmaking has slowly declined. Like a birthday, it occurs occasionally but not all the time.

A movie which proves that ambition hasn’t faded is “The Place Beyond the Pines”. One of the best films of the year, it is an emotionally devastating drama that unexpectedly produces strong themes. As the title of the movie suggests, it reaches beyond an ordinary story and captures a huge time-span. Derek Cianfrance, the director, takes numerous risks in terms of telling such a grand story yet his execution tremendously pays off.  The result is a mesmerizing, powerful film that explores the results or impact of a sin on a person’s life.

Ryan Gosling stars in the leading role as Luke, a motorcycle stunt rider, who out of sheer desperation starts robbing banks to provide for his family. Soon enough, the consequences of this decision are met when Luke encounters conflict with a rookie cop (Bradley Cooper).

With the exception of a rather dark mood, this melancholic, often despairing epic begins with elements that any other Hollywood picture would have. The viewer is introduced to the main characters, plot, setting, etc. However, as soon as the conflict is introduced, the film transcends into thoroughly unpredictable and original territory. From this point on, as if an adrenaline rush just passed through someone’s body, “The Place Beyond the Pines” begins to become intriguing, fascinating, and at times so compelling, that it actually seems real. 

When the beginning of the year usually signifies the release of movies that are either bad or mediocre, this film stands out like a lit-up light bulb in the midst of many defused ones. The concept is out-of-the-ordinary and even at a long running time of  nearly 2 1/2 hours, the movie goes places that one wouldn’t expect.

This is a film so epic in scope that it seems more fit to be the page turner of a novel, rather than a motion picture. Derek Cianfrance’s second collaboration with star Ryan Gosling, “The Place Beyond the Pines” is a multi-generational drama telling three interwoven stories and spanning over 15 years. Its a risky project for Cianfrance to choose since not only does it need a devoted crew, but also impressive execution to work. Both are present and as a result, the film manages to offer deep insight into the subject. A spellbinding message is communicated, but even more riveting are the strong themes such as desperation, guilt, and redemption.

The director in question is a really determined filmmaker. In an industry where ambition isn’t always regarded as a positive thing,  Cianfrance  proves that anything is possible through hard work. Determination doesn’t always lead to success, but “The Place Beyond the Pines” provides us with the rare example where it does. This is a beautifully shot, impressively directed movie upheld by fantastic performances and a boldly crafted script. It’s an unusual, extraordinary experience that unlike your everyday film, is resoundingly memorable.

Technically superb isn’t a statement that I toss around on a regular basis. However, when talking about Derek Cianfrance’s latest film, I can’t help but give it that merit. It is impressively directed. In spite of the fact that one exceeds the other in terms of quality, both the storytelling and technical departments are top-notch. Cianfrance’s choices for the cinematography, or look of the movie, as well as the soundtrack magnificently fit together like a jigsaw puzzle. The real deal here is the fact that the director’s choices take “The Place Beyond the Pines” to another level.

The film is visually captivating, which is slightly surprising considering the type of movie that it is. Nowadays people tend to praise the visuals of 3D films or blockbusters. Despite the fact that this is a drama, it is created with a great sense of visual wonder. Each shot, from the film’s creative opening sequence to it’s closing, is interestingly put together. Uniqueness comes across on various levels in scenes where the camera follows something instead of providing a generic way of capturing a moment. This originality boasts the movie much beyond any other picture of it’s kind. Particular parts, such as the scene in which the camera follows a person riding on a bicycle, have an indelible and emotional impact.

Mike Patton’s score is simply one of the best ones I’ve heard in a while. It’s quite amazing how just a few notes on a piano, or even the echoes of an electric guitar can be so effective. Haunting and tragic, the music of this soundtrack plays a significant role in contributing to the movie’s mood. The filmmakers place certain songs in scenes for multiple reasons. They are astoundingly fitting, and as a whole, the soundtrack represents music being used to it’s greatest potential.

The script is miraculously crafted and perhaps the most important asset that allows the movie to work. It’s incredibly detailed, filled with complex lead characters, and pushes the boundaries of screenwriting.

The movie is separated into three distinct stories that are in way or another, related to each other. Each story has a separate theme and introduces different lead characters. The implications for placing a new character in each story are severe but through an eye-for-detail execution, it works. Part of the reason for this is the intriguing quality of each character. The three main ones for each story are complex people, never giving the impression even once that they are artificial. These are real, everyday human beings that have motivations behind their actions and decisions. The screenwriters choose to make them believable and profound instead of straying towards conventional methods of characterization. If anything, they help deliver the message that nobody in life is perfect and that everyone makes mistakes.

In terms of acting, not one cast member feels out of place or even the least bit worried. The entire group of performers is splendid, but it’s really the three leads that stand out the most.

The power of a great actor sometimes comes across when he/she only appears for a limited amount of time, yet still remains unforgettable. It’s definitely the case with Ryan Gosling, who chews up the scenery in his screen time and becomes an intimidating force to be reckoned with. In this film, he delivers a brilliant performance as a desperate man who does bad things to provide for his family. Gosling portrays the hopelessness of his character with a wonderful authenticity. His daunting expressions, along with the tone of voice (especially in bank robbery scenes) displays this characteristic. Also notable is the actor’s towering screen presence that makes his performance larger-than-life.

Those that are regarding Bradley Cooper only as a heartthrob will likely be surprised when they see this film. The actor completely diminishes that appeal and makes himself stand out in perhaps the most important and impressive role of his career. Cooper plays a guilt-ridden person seeking redemption in a corrupt world. His character is one of the only ones that intertwine through all three stories, and for good reason. Rarely does one come across a performance that is so emotional and powerful. This actor completely knocks it out of the park; immersing himself both physically and emotionally in a career-defining role. After shining in “Silver Linings Playbook”, this may just be another chance for Cooper to get recognition come awards season.

There’s also Dane DeHaan in the heartbreaking role of a teenager that is lost in life. Resembling Leonardo DiCaprio in his younger stage, this young actor proves that he is one of the most pivotal rising stars in Hollywood at the moment. He gives an emotionally draining performance, without which the last hour of the movie would not work.

The last act, or story of “The Place Beyond the Pines” isn’t quite up to the level of the first two, but it does succeed in bringing the film to an effective conclusion. And as the movie ends, I am reminded why I watch films in the first place: not just to get entertained but also enlightened by messages about life. In the case of this film, it speaks to me in a way few movies have over the last decade. It shows the importance of decisions and how they could virtually destroy or invigorate a person’s life. Also touched upon is the fact that family and allies are so important, that without them one would be helpless in life.

Genes that people inherit from their parents never leave them. The characteristics stay with them throughout their life, affecting every challenge and decision that they face. It’s these kinds of films that have the ability to do that as well.

5/5 stars

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