The rise of Ryan Gosling over the last few years has been interesting. I first remember hearing about him because of art house and festival darlings like Half Nelson and Lars and the Real Girl. Around the same time, he had also made an impact as a class–A dreamboat with The Notebook. In the years since, he’s made an obvious decisions to not be nailed down to any genre or style of movie. Instead, picking hugely different roles and hugely different collaborators. From B-grade genre stuff like Drive and Only God Forgives, to big budget cheese like Gangster Squad, to serious drama, like Blue Valentine. Then, there’s a strange movie that’s a combo of all of that, and a little bit more, The Place Beyond the Pines.
In a pretty amazing single shot, Gosling’s Luke makes his way from his dressing room, through a carnival and into a circus tent where he performs as a motorbike stunt man. It turns out that a year or two ago, when the carnival was travelling through the same town, he knocked up town hotty, Evan Mendes as Romina. When he finds out he has a son, Luke quits the stunt show so he can stay and try to build a life for his son.
Looking for work, he meets Robin (Ben Mendelshon), a local mechanic. When garage work doesn’t pay the bills for either of them, they decide to use Luke’s motorbike skills to rob banks. During one robbery, Luke gets in a high speed chase with local beat cop, Avery (Bradley Cooper).
It’s almost 50 minutes into The Place Beyond the Pines before Cooper’s character is introduced, and the movie takes a totally unexpected left turn. Then, as soon as you get a handle on the new, Bradley Copper focused direction, it changes track again for the last third. And while all three sections take place over different time periods, focusing on different characters, there is a very clear connection between them all.
Both Gosling and Cooper’s characters do some terrible things, and they both do them all in the name of their families and the pursuit of being good fathers. We also get some straight up Bronte shit with some Wuthering Heights style themes of people suffering for the sins of previous generations. Don’t let that put you off though, even at almost two and half hours, The Place Beyond the Pines turns these ideas into an unrelenting story that never drags.
As well as Gosling, Cooper, Mendes and Mendelssohn, the cast is also rounded out by Ray Liotta and Rose Byrne. This is an awesome cast that is never wasted in any way. Every actor gets their own little moments to shine and none ever seem under utilised.
When I saw director Derek Cianfrance’s Blue Valentine, I thought it was perfectly OK, while also the epitome of ultra depressing movie festival cliché. Which was the reason that despite all the great reviews, I actively avoided The Place Beyond the Pines for a long time. But that was a mistake. It’s a clear step forward for Cianfrance as a writer and director and enough to make me see whatever he makes next.