I typically prefer to let my thoughts and emotions about a film simmer, and embark on some basic research before I hit the keyboard. A simple google search of The Place Beyond the Pines proved to me what I already knew; this work is larger, and more real than any socially constructed film models can asphyxiate. Multiple sources, including the movie’s Wikipedia page- a pillar of reliability- claimed that Derek Cianfrance’s film was a “crime drama,” while others placed it in line behind The Godfather and Goodfellas. I won’t dispute that Pines has an interweaving element of crime, and a remarkable introductory tracking shot reminiscent of the work of Tarantino or Scorsese. However, The Place Beyond the Pines cannot be simplified into these genres or compared to any single film made before it. This film bears almost no resemblance to The Godfather, and while it is impressive enough to be named alongside Coppola’s work, to compare the two is completely misrepresenting this film. The impossibility of defining this film is its beauty. Within each sequence, one is made to believe they know the meaning of this work, but then it is spun. The Place Beyond the Pines is a film about how far a man will go to provide for his family, how far he will go for love. It is about the true depiction of evil, of corruption, of “the bad guy.” It is a film about the connection between father and son, about identity, guilt, and legacy.
The artistry of Cianfrance and the performances form an incredible ensemble- Ryan Gosling, Bradley Cooper, Eva Mendes, Dane DeHaan, and Ray Liotta to name a few- come to fruition in a film that is the most inventive and emotionally jarring that big Hollywood has produced in a long time. The Place Beyond the Pines feels like an indie in its raw creativity and quiet noise, and yet the skill of the famous faces painting the screen is what elevates the book and carries us through to the end.
Cianfrance serves confident and assured filmmaking in the face of serious cinematic risks. Similar to Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight, Pines is subtly told through three chapters. Cutting the emotional ties and introducing an almost entirely new plot line, with a new, un-introduced character, is incredibly hard to pull off. If the film doesn’t lose people the first round, then the second batch of brand new strangers is sure to throw the audience for a loop. However, the skilled writing and fluent direction in this film carry the plot smoothly past the initial shock and bring us safely to the resolution.
Summaries and well-read reviews prefer to present this story as one of paralleling and intertwining lives. I recommend going into this movie blind, but if one were to mistakenly watch the trailer he would find that even those two minutes seem to show two vastly different men living parallel lives. This is blatant misrepresentation and dulls the beauty of the writing. It isn’t until the final minutes of Luke Glanton’s (Gosling) life that we meet Officer Avery Cross (Cooper) in a deadly shootout. This initial climax is made more effective with the audience having never met Cross, thus leaving us to grapple with the realization that the remaining 80 or so minutes of the film will be barren of Gosling’s presence entirely.
Luke Glanton’s story is one of gritty desperation and heartbreak. Seen is a tattooed and bleached man crying alone in the back of the church where the son he didn’t know he had is being baptized in the hands of his replacement father. Avery Cross begins his sequence in the face of a fatal mistake, and must learn to not only deal with the guilt but build a life from it while functioning in the environment of corruption that surrounds him. The final chapter or sequence, is one of cinematic continuity and the collision of these separate lives years later in a shaking, yet masterful form.
With a runtime of 140 minutes, a duration slightly longer than the average movie viewer has been conditioned to sit through, I found myself searching for extraneous aspects of this film that could have been chopped in the editing room. However, my efforts were fruitless. Every single minute of this film is purposeful and impactful, and lends itself to the impressive character development made within each chapter. This film does not lull or slow down at any moment, and moves in complete 180 degree turns the minute one begins to feel comfortable with the story. While I am wildly hesitant to dub this piece a “crime drama,” this story laden with guns, drugs, and dirty cops, is one made of edge, discomfort, and heartbreak in the most beautiful way.