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The Place Beyond the Pines

Reviewed by Matt Denny.

Director Derek Cianfrance
Length 140 mins
Certificate 15 / R
Rating *********-
Filmmaking: 5  Personal enjoyment: 4

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The Place Beyond the Pines is a truly beautiful film. It is both painfully materialist and hesitantly, hopefully, transcendental: an experience both uplifting and melancholic. For all its hard lessons about the gritty uncertainty of life, there is a broad streak of romanticism running through the film, as satisfying as it is heartbreaking. The spaces of the film are both otherworldly and mundane, reflecting the trials of these men who dream the American Dream long after their contemporaries have awakened and the dream itself has died.

Tattooed itinerant stunt rider Luke (Ryan Gosling) abandons life on the road after discovering he is the father of old-flame Romina's (Eva Mendes) young son. Shut out of his son's life, Luke takes to robbing banks in order to prove he is capable of providing for his would-be family. Luke's criminal activity brings him into conflict with police officer Avery (Bradley Cooper), a confrontation with lasting repercussions for the families of both men.

With eruptions of intense, visceral action fracturing the film's measured, almost languorous pace, The Place Beyond the Pines is as exhilarating as it is visually stunning. It is a film where "the moment" is given supreme importance, but simultaneously obsessed with how these moments fit into the wider tapestry of time. A sense of yearning, the desire to capture and isolate a moment, is coupled with the painful acknowledgment that no moment stands alone, and that all experience is transitory.

The acting is superb. Gosling's Luke is a sublime mess of inarticulate, damaged masculinity. Avery is not quite Luke's opposite, but is instead more of a complimentary contrasting figure; a man with similar drives but different circumstances. It isn’t just that Luke and Avery are on opposing sides of the law that marks them as different. Avery is a man with all the privileges Luke lacks, and yet he too is found wanting, struggling in a world in which he doesn't quite fit. Both men are dreamers, with ideal visions of what their world should be, confronted with realities that are contingent, dirty, and unfair. Cooper conveys this play of similarity and difference effectively and with subtlety. Rose Byrne, as Avery's wife should receive special mention. In her sadly all too brief screen time, Byrne conveys so much with so little: the tone of her voice, a curl of her lip, the set of her brows.

The Place Beyond the Pines is a film that resonates long after viewing. Some scenes are almost painfully vivid, while others re-emerge unlooked for and with new significance, overburdened with meaning. The film gets under the skin and stays there, refusing to be ignored or forgotten and suggesting (perhaps) that this could be a classic of contemporary American cinema.

This review was published on May 07, 2013.