My print review for The Place Beyond the Pines is at Lawrence.com and excerpted below. Also, you can hear Trevan and I talk about the movie on the Scene-Stealers Podcast #87, and read Trevan’s full review of the movie here.
If you’ve seen the trailer, you are probably expecting an action-based crime thriller where a frustrated local cop (Bradley Cooper) chases down a mysterious motorcycle bandit (Ryan Gosling) who’s been robbing banks. Luckily, there’s a lot more to the movie than that.
The Place Beyond the Pines begins with a piece of dynamic myth-making, but with one key addition. From the opening unbroken over-the-shoulder take that follows Gosling’s tattooed stunt cyclist Luke Glanton into a cheering crowd and beyond, Cianfrance’s movie endears its characters to us and makes them easy to identify with. There’s a reason baked into the story that Luke is presented as larger than life, and over two hours into the film when this scene is a distant memory, its resonance is amplified because of the time that’s passed.
In its first couple of chapters, The Place Beyond the Pines appears to solely be about moral compromise. But Cianfrance, who also wrote the film with Ben Coccio and Darius Marder, is painting on a larger canvas. The economically depressed setting of Schenectady, N.Y., and its surrounding forest and rural area serves as a fitting backdrop as its characters make tough choices that will have rippling effects on the lives around them.
Like his previous film Blue Valentine, Cianfrance shows a strong tendency toward naturalistic filmmaking, one that isn’t muddled by the usual amount of quick editing and slam-bang pacing. When the story asks that you accept certain coincidences as part of its conceit, it’s the authenticity of the performances and intimacy of the presentation that ground the film emotionally. Even the scenes of Gosling riding at top speed on his motorcycle are thrilling in their immediacy without using any of the big-budget techniques and multiple camera angles that action directors rely on these days.
More than anything else, The Place Beyond the Pines is electrifying because it overcomes its structural challenges. Two hours and 40 minutes is a long running time for a low-budget family drama, especially one that confounds expectations early on and then heads in a familiar direction. The late Roger Ebert once said, “It’s not what a movie is about, it’s how it is about it,” and that applies 100 percent to The Place Beyond the Pines, a haunting film that makes something new out of the tradition of sprawling epic tragedies told in linear fashion.