A film titled The Place Beyond the Pines can serve as a metaphor to bury a dark past, a place to actually bury a dark past, and the English meaning of a city. Such is the case for Derek Cianfrance’s latest directorial effort The Place Beyond The Pines. The crime drama takes its title from the English Meaning of the city of Schenectady, New York. In fact it is the very city that serves as the backdrop for the film.
But there is so much more to this film than it’s title. It’s about the characters, the decisions they make, the mistakes that carry over, and lives that will change based on all the choices these people make no matter if it’s positive or negative. The beauty of this film is that despite it’s despairing tones – and lengthyness –, family will always be family, and there is no compromise to it. Hit the jump for the full review.
The film starts off literally following the footsteps of the legendary Luke Glanton (Ryan Gosling), a motorcycle stunt driver working for a traveling circus. The night before the circus leaves his hometown for another lengthy tour, Romina, an old flame, stops by and gives him the news that he has a baby. So after deciding to retire and take care of his baby, he finds out that after being estranged for so long, it isn’t easy to take care of a child especially since Romina (Eva Mendes) has a steady boyfriend (Mahershalahashbaz Ali). So the only way he can get the fund to properly provide for his son is to rob banks using his motorcycle skills to race away from the cops. With the help of Robin (Men Medelsohn) things go well, but the cops are on to his act, and Luke decides to have one more go at it without Robin’s help. It is there that he meets his unlikely fate at the hands of Avery Cross (Bradley Cooper). From there a new generation of trouble begins as morality, mistakes, and decisions made in the past carry on over to the new Glanton and Cross family. Mistakes that will surely and painfully haunt the two families.
Really the crime aspect of this film takes a back seat and acts as a fuel to burn a the family aspect that drives this film. If anything this film is more about the sins of the fathers, fathers who would do anything in their power to provide for their son. Something any honorable father would do. No matter what crimes they have to pull whether it involves cheating, lying, killing, or political corruption, a father would do anything for their son, and that is clearly seen in this film.
Also shaken at it’s core is the idea of the American dream. Sure fatherhood is partially attributed to the American dream, but each character has their own dreams to achieve. It is just by sheer happenstance that when each character cross each others path that they inadvertently achieve them.
The problem with a film like this is that it is lengthy, after all we are getting two different stories from two different generations from the point of view of two different families. While it may be easy to say that it could be split into two different films, the narrative structure as a whole would collapse if that idea was used. The film was a whole feels like a miniseries because it spans two generations. At times it can feel like The Places Beyond The Pines can go on and on and on. Luckily Mike Patton’s haunting score eases us into the film and almost makes us forget that the film does run at 140 minutes.
The characters’ male counterparts (Mendes and Rose Bryne) serve as the moral compass for Luke and Avery. While this may be Mendes’ strongest performance to date, Bryne is perhaps the weakest of the cast. Her presence in the film is very limited and her character holds little to no power. She virtually disappears in the third act of the film.
While the generational aspect of the film may sound good on paper, it’s execution does have its flaws. Each of the characters get their respected screen time, and there is ample time to explain their story and how their fates changed the day they met. The entire process feels like the film is some sort of miniseries, each character has its own story to tell with the series moving forward to the next episode when inevitable events occur. While I understand Cianfrance decision to tell the film in this narrative, it still feels a little strange to see a film like this go through said motions.
One thing is for sure, The Place Beyond The Pines isn’t your typical crime drama. It feels more like a story about fathers and sons and the idea of the American dream infused with the essence of a crime drama.