Talented stunt-bike rider Luke Glanton (Gosling) makes a living as part of a travelling carnival. Discovering that he fathered a child with local waitress Romina (Mendes), Luke decides to stick around and provide for the pair of them, using his unique skillset to pull off a number of small-time bank robberies. While this puts him on a collision course with ambitious cop Avery Cross (Cooper), the consequences prove much further reaching…
Featuring Ryan Gosling as a brooding stunt-driver of few words, The Place Beyond The Pines was quickly – and inevitably – pegged as ‘Drive on a bike’. Despite a few other similarities, however, Derek Cianfrance’s follow-up to Blue Valentine (which also starred The Gos) is very much its own beast, playing out as an ambitious, multi-generational tale of fathers and sons. Opening with a remarkable tracking shot that follows Gosling into a death-defying stunt, the first 45 minutes function as an absorbing small-town heist thriller, punctuating riveting family drama with a few exhilarating robbery sequences. Sombre yet mesmerising, it’s a film about actions and consequences, about choice and legacy. Accompanied by Mike Patton’s haunting piano theme, Cianfrance crafts a number of powerful, transcendent moments, while the filmmaker’s naturalistic style elicits another tour-de-force (torso-de-force?) showing from the swoon-tastic Gosling. Still not convinced he’s an actor? Check out the scene where Luke watches his infant son’s baptism.
From here, though, the film changes gears dramatically (as such, anyone wanting to go in completely cold should probably stop reading here), unexpectedly shifting its focus towards Bradley Cooper’s cop. While not quite as compelling, this second act also proves spellbinding once you’ve adjusted to the protagonist change-over, powered by an impressive, career-best turn from an unusually clean-shaven Cooper. Revolving around police corruption, this section is reminiscent of underrated nineties thriller Cop Land, a comparison which is strengthened by the welcome presence of an on-form Ray Liotta as a sleazy cop. Just as you’re expecting the film to start winding down, however, Cianfrance then shifts the narrative focus once again, turning our attention to two teenagers (Dane DeHaan, Emory Cohen) while swelling the running time by necessity. Undoubtedly, this chapter is the least successful of the three, but yet it provides a number of affecting scenes that help bring Cianfrance’s epic saga full circle. An argument could be made that neither teen is convincingly cast (it’s tough to say why without giving the game away), and Cohen seems to be in a less realistic movie than everyone else. But DeHaan is captivating enough to maintain our interest, while both Ben Mendelsohn and Eva Mendes stand out in recurring supporting roles.
Though slightly let down by a lesser third act, The Place Beyond The Pines is a hugely impressive slice of filmmaking. Ambitious, mesmerising and elevated by a few remarkable performances, it’s a minor American classic in the making.