The Place Beyond the Pines (Pines) is co-writer/director Derek Cianfrance's intimate crime saga of fatherhood on both sides of the law. Pines sees Cianfrance channeling The Godfather Part 2; but instead of fathers at the head of criminal dynasties separated by and echoing through the chasm of time, it's the collision of two men and how the subsequent fallout manifests itself in their family and heirs.
When carnival motorcycle stuntman Luke (Ryan Gosling) rolls back into Altamont, New York, on his yearly visit he runs into a former flame Romina (Eva Mendes) who happens to have a baby, his son. He swiftly ends carnival life to support his son and gets a job with Robin (Ben Mendelsohn) using his skill-set to rob banks. His larceny hurls him toward Avery (Bradley Cooper) an ambitious police officer fresh out of law school with a young family.
Cianfrance has a cold visual style that doesn't let light and warmth comfort you. It's the cold grey greens/blues of the damp thick forest surrounds contrasted by harsh unnatural halogen lighting of trailers; it's a human world atop the natural world that feels alien.
Cianfrance and co-writers Ben Coccio and Darius Marder have to flesh out these different worlds that form a room of mirrors, reflecting, echoing and refracting between these generations. Absence of parents and rebellion against what's been laid out is required in this symbiosis between families. And once the lives of the different generational representatives intersect, collision and conflict is necessary. Crafting these clashes between the stellar cast is Cianfrance's focus. The three acts of Pines is a trio of perspectives.
Gosling is flying in Pines. Watching him as the hyper cool, tattoo covered Luke gives you a feeling like you're caught beneath a brewing electrical storm; at times he literally made my hairs stand up. However, it's not just Luke's steely calm that makes the performance, it's the frenzy with which his desperation manifests to give his son a better life that takes the character to another gear.
Cooper presents a beautifully nuanced transition from idealistic cop, intent on affecting change from the ground up in spite of the path that was laid out for him (his father is a retired judge). Once he's exposed to Ray Liotta's Deluca, corruption incarnate in the department, his predestination of life as an attorney and beyond is an answer to what he deems to be inherently wrong. This conflict and conveying political skill navigating the situation suits Cooper to the ground.
Luke and Avery's dark impulses are projected into Dane DeHaan's Jason and Emory Cohen's A.J as both young actors deliver performances that honour their on screen fathers.
Ben Mendelsohn goes toe to toe with another tremendous Oscar nominated actor (Gosling - Half Nelson); and just as he did while surrounded by them in Killing Me Softly (Brad Pitt, Richard Jenkins) he absolutely holds his own. Mendelsohn never looks like he's acting and that's such a perfect harmony to Gosling's burning flare. Liotta is tremendous as the snake Deluca. His eyes feel like they're stripping flesh from you.
The only possible downfall is that you may find yourself attracted to or allied to particular segment of this epic or family in this sprawling tale of two houses. If you're resonating at the nihilistic drive of Gosling's Luke, the trudge through the muddy politics of law enforcement with Avery's journey may disengage you.
The Place Beyond the Pines is a heart-wrenching epic poem that quashes the delusion that sons won't be affected by the actions of their fathers.
Blake Howard - follow Blake on Twitter here: @blakeisbatman and listen to the audio review on That Movie Show 2UE here or on top-rating film podcast Pod Save Our Screen, available now on iTunes.
Directed by: Derek Cianfrance
Written by: Derek Cianfrance (story/screenplay) & Ben Coccio (story/screenplay) and Darius Marder (screenplay)
Starring: Ryan Gosling, Eva Mendes, Ben Mendelsohn, Bradley Cooper, Rose Byrne, Bruce Greenwood, Ray Liotta, Dane DeHaan, Emory Cohen