Director Derek Cianfrace presents us with a film of three halves that takes us through two generations in its 140 minutes on the screen.
It was with more than a little trepidation that I read some of the advance notices of this film to be told that it "intertwined" three stories and “crossed generations”. I had visions of getting temporal seasickness, like I had during Trance last week.
Much relief, then, to find that the interconnected stories in The Place Beyond The Pines are told in linear fashion. Descriptions of it as a sort of Triptych make perfect sense, as it can be read as a single continuous narrative that almost but not quite falls into three segments.
Ryan Gosling is “Handsome Luke”, a small-time motorcycle stunt rider with a travelling fair, whose uncomplicated life is set off kilter by a meeting with an old affair, Romina, played by Eva Mendes. Romina has a one year old child, Jason, who was fathered by Luke but as she has now moved on and has a new partner she chooses not to tell him. Her mother is less discreet though, and lets the cat out of the bag. Seeing his son rocks Luke’s foundations and he lets the fair move on without him with hopes of becoming a father to Jason. He is offered work by an auto mechanic Robin (Ben Mendelsohn) but this doesn’t pay enough, so the pair take to bank robbery so that Luke can make enough to buy into his son’s life.
Enter Bradley Cooper, as Avery Cross, an ambitious cop who finds himself in the right place to bring Luke’s new career in crime to an abrupt end.
Avery is badly injured in the process and while recovering has his own life-changing epiphany when he picks up a sleeping child and realises that some of his decisions will take a lifetime to come to terms with. We follow him through some of his own questionable career moves until he finally sees the chance to make his own father proud.
It is the third episode in the story that briefly feels more like an inbuilt sequel, until we discover the coincidence that brings old family rivalries to a potentially tragic conjunction. It might seem like a slightly too neat and tidy ending but it is satisfying for all that, as we see that a resolution might only be found somewhere in a place beyond the pines.
Ryan Gosling plays a character that we could easily fail to care about, but he plays it with such genuine depth of feeling that we do care a great deal. The internal struggle he has between his aggressive nature and the unexpected love he finds for his boy does create the central emotional core of the film.
This sets a benchmark against which Bradley Cooper has to set his portrayal of Avery. He almost achieves it but his character remains a little two dimensional by comparison. It is hard to find sympathy for Avery except in the central part of his story, where he sees the effect his actions have had on another family’s lives. Avery is the one character who ages most successfully in the final act, although I understand that there was some digital assistance to make him appear younger in the earlier part of the film.
Eva Mendes gives a strong and convincing performance as Romina although, as has been mentioned elsewhere, the female characters seem only to be here to prop up the story of the male leads. So much so that we have to prompt ourselves to remember Rose Byrne as Jennifer, Avery’s wife, who is only there because his son needs an onscreen mother. Mahershala Ali as Romina’s partner does a stalwart job too, but he too is only really there because the plot requires it.
Ben Mendelsohn delivers well in his rounded portrayal of Robin, the robber turned mechanic who provides Luke with a home and employment of sorts, while Ray Liotta is memorable for all the wrong reasons leading a group of Avery’s corrupt Police Department cronies.
It is in the last episode when Emory Cohen and Dane DeHaan come up with two of the film’s most compelling characters as the teenage AJ and Jason. I genuinely did feel like personally wringing the smugness out of AJ and he plays this deeply unpleasant young man with obvious relish. Dane DeHaan though is the big success of the latter part of this picture, and it is his final departure from the screen that leaves us with the conclusion that Cianfrance is a consummate storyteller.
Production and costume design along with an interesting and varied score manage to set the period for the film well and to give it great atmosphere.
At 2 hrs and 20 minutes, some of the audience commented that it could have lived with leaving a bit more on the cutting room floor, but for my money the pacing held me there throughout, with a small wobble around the transition into the third segment.
Some fine performances and well balanced direction make this a picture well worth going to see.