The Place Beyond the Pines (2012) – Film Review

“If You Ride Like Lightning, You’re Going to Crash Like Thunder.” – Robin

Successively suspenseful and dramatic, The Place Beyond the Pines, released in 2012, is a thrilling crime-drama recounting a tale of fatherly sins visited by their descendants. Efficiently co-written and directed by Derek Cianfrance (Blue ValentineThe Light Between OceansSound of Metal), The Place Beyond the Pines utilises its decade-spanning story and outstanding performances from its extensive cast to construct a film that succeeds both as a high-stakes crime-thriller, and a far quieter, more empathetic character study of enraged, solitary men, ascertaining Cianfrance’s penchant for bold storytelling and eye for sighting the cast members to carry his stories through to their climax.

Plot Summary: When Luke, a high-wire motorcycle stuntman, passes through Schenectady, New York, as part of a travelling carnival, he reconnects with his former lover, Romina, discovering that, in his absence, she has given birth to their son, Jason. Determined to give his son the upbringing he never had, Luke renounces his life on the road to provide for his new family, taking an underpaid job as a car mechanic before committing a series of bank robberies aided by his exceptional motorcycle skills, eventually placing him on a collision course with the ambitious police officer, Avery Cross…

Unfolding over fifteen years, the actual narrative of The Place Beyond the Pines is undoubtedly one of the film’s finest aspects, disclosing an engaging and dreary tale, all within the confines of Schenectady and its surrounding woodland. The first two acts of the story, which almost feel like distinct ‘chapters,’ are consistently compelling and narratively unpredictable. Unfortunately, however, the strengths of the first two acts are diluted in the somewhat meandering third act, which is admittedly weaker than those that precede it, concluding the story with something of an anticlimax. Nevertheless, it is a uniquely structured plot, conforming to the notion of generational sins.

In the first act, the story revolves around the travails of Luke, portrayed by Ryan Gosling, a heavily-tattooed motorcycle stuntman living a freeing life on the road before he learns his former lover, Romina, portrayed by Eva Mendes, has given birth to their son. Given something to care about in his life, Luke decides to abandon his trivial lifestyle to become a suitable father figure, plunging into a dead-end job before taking a friend’s suggestion to rob banks. From here, Luke rides the line between logical and immoral, performing vile acts in the hope of earning money to fuel better ones, making for an instantly compelling character as Gosling suitably delivers a nuanced, moody performance riddled with pathos. Likewise, Avery Cross, excellently portrayed by Bradley Cooper, is a captivating protagonist in the second act. Serving as one of the police officers tasked with finding Luke, Avery is a well-educated officer keen to prove himself and move up the ranks of law enforcement. But, as his time in the force grows, Avery begins to see the deep level of corruption within his department, conveying underlying social commentary that is even more relevant today. Lastly, in the third act, the narrative switches focus to the sons of Luke and Avery, Jason and AJ, portrayed by Dane DeHaan and Emory Cohen, respectively, fifteen years after the previous acts. And despite DeHaan and Cohen delivering admirable performances as both characters inherit some of their father’s traits, this act and its protagonists are less gripping than the previous two, as previously mentioned.

When it comes to the visuals, the cinematography of The Place Beyond the Pines is largely dominated by hand-held shots. Fortunately, these shots are considerably less distracting (and motion sickness-inducing) than many other flicks where this style of camerawork is employed. However, Sean Bobbitt’s cinematography is undoubtedly at its most effective in one particularly exhilarating chase sequence, seemingly accomplished in one unbroken take as it’s shot entirely through the window screen of a police car pursuing Luke on his motorcycle.

In spite of the many moments of violence and tension, the original score by Mike Patton is unexpectedly soothing. Patton, who is most known as the lead singer of the alternative metal band, Faith No More, made his debut composing for film with the action sequel; Crank: High Voltage, in 2009, The Place Beyond the Pines being his third score, and easily his most impressive to date. A combination of electronic tones, electric and acoustic guitar accents and a sampled choir, the soundtrack retains many beautiful tracks, the most notable being; The Snow Angel, a lonesome piano-led motif that is only heard once during the runtime yet is exceptionally memorable, even appearing in one of the film’s trailers. 

Intriguingly, Derek Cianfrance claims that his financier would only provide him with the budget he desired if he reduced the one hundred-and-fifty-eight-page screenplay to one hundred and ninety pages. Without removing anything, Cianfrance sneakily used a smaller font and extended the margins, which I’m thankful for as, in my opinion, virtually every scene throughout The Place Beyond the Pines is important.

In summary, in trying to convey such a monumental amount of story, The Place Beyond the Pines does sometimes spread itself too thin and leave some strands incomplete, but when the film is at its best, it is an enthralling and well-written piece of storytelling. And while its underlying themes are weighty, Derek Cianfrance’s strong direction and surprisingly effective use of hand-held camerawork result in a disquieting style that snappily underplays the drama and uncertainty. Rating: low 8/10.

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