Let me start by saying this: The Place Beyond the Pines is NOT ‘Drive 2.’ Yes, we see Ryan Gosling donning an immortally hip jacket, flashing a switchblade, dangerously riding a motorcycle and robbing banks in the trailer. But Luke Glanton (Gosling) is not the only main character in director Derek Cianfrance’s triptych about the legacies people leave by the decisions they make. It would be a major spoiler to explain exactly who Bradley Cooper and Dane DeHaan (Chronicle) play in the second and third acts of this film, but suffice to say that they are the second and third main characters after each of the narrative shifts the film makes.
Similar to the way Cianfrance explored marital relationships in Blue Valentine, Pines deals with paternal relationships of all kinds. Ryan Gosling’s Luke is a drifter on Skid Row and he tries to provide for the son he never knew he had the only way he knows how: bank robbery. That’s not to say he’s a career criminal when we first meet him – he’s a stunt motorcycle rider in a traveling carnival. When he meets backwoods mechanic Robin Van Der Zee (a terrific Ben Mendelsohn), he learns how to steal properly and get away with it. When the film makes its first narrative shift, Avery Cross (Bradley Cooper) constantly goes to his father for advice when he finds himself in a horrible situation. Dane DeHaan’s character, Jason, makes it his mission to discover who his real father is, providing an exciting and intensely emotional climax in a film full of tense moments. Some may criticize Pines for its ambitiousness and sometimes over-emotional atmosphere. While I acknowledge that some points in the film can feel forced, the majority of the film feels truthful and very emotionally resonant.
This is truly a classic film. I don’t use that word often. Films can be masterpieces without being classics, but The Place Beyond the Pines is a winner on all levels – acting (Did I mention Eva Mendes’ strong performance? No? Well, I should have), writing (credit to Cianfrance and his co-writers Ben Coccio and Darius Marder) and direction. You can feel a distinct directorial stamp here while also recognizing the epic nature of the story. Six years after There Will Be Blood, we’ve finally been given the next film that can say it’s the new American classic.
P.S. Extra kudos to director of photography Sean Bobbitt, who accomplishes a level of style and clarity with the dramatic close-up I’ve never seen before.
– George Napper