Review by John McGinn
The Place Beyond the Pines is an ambitious epic about choices and the consequences of those choices, and about the relationship between fathers and sons along with how the father’s decisions impact their sons.
The film’s first act opens with Luke Glanton (Ryan Gosling) a famous motorcycle rider for a traveling state carnival. The man leads an empty life without any meaning besides his job and bike. That changes when Romina (Eva Mendes) an old fling returns comes to see him after a year. It turns out that Luke has a son, Jason who he had no knowledge of and has no part in his son’s life. He’s forced to watch as another man raise and be a part of his baptism. Luke wants to be a part of his son’s life saying a son needs his father after all Luke didn’t have a father and look how badly he turned out, but as it is pointed out to him by a few people he has a limited skill set so if he can barely take care of himself how can he take care of Romina and their son.
Avery Cross (Bradley Cooper) stars in the second act. Avery a rookie police officer who’s been on the job barely a year when he becomes a hero after he successfully takes down Luke Glanton on his own. Avery is a very ambitious man wanting to rise to the highest level of office, and he pays the price for it when he gets involved with officer Deluca (Ray Liotta) and his fellow corrupt cops. Avery already has a guilty conscience about taking Jason’s father away from him, so much so that Avery can barely look at his own son, AJ when he is forced to make a moral decision does he continue to help Deluca or does he try and bring them down all the while trying to advance his own career. Avery’s and Luke’s lives and decisions truly come together in the third act of the film which takes place fifteen years in the future. There Avery is running for Attorney General, AJ (Emory Cohen) is living with his divorced wife Jennifer (Rose Byrne). The troubled AJ moves in with his dad and into a new high school. There he meets a teenager at the same age in Jason (Dane DeHaan), and the impact of the choices their parents made come to light and they are left to deal with the consequences. The film ends just like it began with a young man getting on a bike and riding off into the unknown.
Derek Cianfrance’s screenplay is elaborate and far reaching in the scope of the characters, but it doesn’t always work effectively. In my opinion Avery’s story is the most flawed of the three intertwined stories. Avery just isn’t that well written of a character or he isn’t fleshed out enough, and Bradley Cooper who’s proven he’s capable of being a great actor from his Oscar nominated performance in Silver Linings Playbook instead seems to be playing the character without any depth. Even his emotional scenes just don’t hold up that well. Along with that the supporting actor’s roles weren’t that good. Whether it be the capable Ray Liotta and Rose Byrne or Bruce Greenwood it just seems like Cianfrance was trying to do too much with the story he had. What holds up the lackluster middle part of the film are the beginning and end of the film. Ryan Gosling has come into his own in his last few films, and outside of Gangster Squad he has given outstanding performances. Ryan delivers beautifully acted performance as he perfectly plays Luke the sadden knew father who finds hope in his son, and all he wants to do is provide for the woman he loves and his son even if it is illegal. Eva Mendes delivers her best acting performance of her career as Romina who feels guilt for not telling Luke about his son as well as conflicted emotions about his father. In a supporting role Ben Mendelsohn does a wonderful job as Robin, Luke’s only friend. I think Dane DeHaan and Emory Cohen steal the film with their performances as Jason and AJ respectfully. They did a masterful job displaying emotions of these emotionally damaged teenagers. You will fully believe in these characters and the scars they display in their eyes. The script isn’t outstanding, but I loved it. It does a wonderful job showing the impact fathers have on their son’s and how our decisions in life always have consequences whether we see them right away or not.
Derek Cianfrance’s script might not be the best, but he makes up for it as a director. Admittedly I haven’t seen any of his other films, but this relative new comer does a marvelous job bring to life his vision for The Place Beyond the Pines. Cianfrance nearly perfectly directs his outstanding cast as they almost all give superb performances helping to add depth and character to his film. Beyond the Pines is simply a gorgeous film as it was filmed entirely in New York State and cinematographer Sean Bobbitt captures the essence of the state perfectly from the cities to the great pine forests. I wouldn’t call Mike Patton a great or good composer from the list of projects he’s worked on, but Patton does an excellent job with the score. The tone, feel and emotion of the music fit perfectly with scenes in the film. The only flaws I found in the production of the film were perhaps in the camera work being jittery and hard to follow on occasion and some of the editing decisions. Beyond the Pines is a pretty long film, and I’m sure there had to be some editing decisions made about what needed to be cut, and in certain scenes I think it shows. In my opinion those are only very small flaws that didn’t take much away from the film.
Going into A Place Beyond the Pines I had high expectations. I loved the trailer, the cast and the music I heard and though the film is flawed in the middle Beyond the Pines brightens up what has been a very disappointing early 2013 in film being easily the best film of the year so far with a great cast, a really good screenplay, great directing, really good acting mixed in with a great score and beautiful cinematography. If there is one film in the early part of 2013 that I think is a must see it is Beyond the Pines, and I think it will go down as one of the better films of the year.
4.5 out of 5 Stars