From the literal meaning of Schenectady, New York, The Place Beyond the Pines has one heck of a leading cast. There are enough people out there who would see a movie only because Ryan Gosling or Bradley Cooper was in it, not to mention both of them. Throw in Eva Mendes and the up and coming Dane DeHaan (Chronicle) with Ray Liotta, Rose Byrn, and Ben Mendelsohn in supporting roles, along with a slew of other talented actors, and you have a lot of reason to be interested in this one.
By the director who brought Gosling to the spotlight of critical acclaim in Blue Valentine, The Place Beyond the Pines is an intense three-act drama that follows the life of circus stunt biker (Gosling) and the impact his decisions make on multiple people. When he decides to stick around to help a one night stand (Mendes) raise the child he didn’t know he had, he makes a series of choices that ripple far beyond what he could imagine. With no money to speak of, he teams up with a sleazy mechanic (Mendelsohn) to begin robbing banks. This leads to a confrontation with a young go-getting cop (Cooper), the end of act one, and the beginning of spoiler territory.
This is first and foremost a character drama. There are some nice action beats, but not nearly as many as the trailer might suggest. Gosling and Cooper both continue to show that they are much more than pretty faces, giving riveting performances each. Nearly everyone gives a flawless performance here, easily drawing you into an increasingly complex and dark story.
It’s a very dark story. In fact, nearly nothing good happens to anyone throughout the entire lengthy film, which makes it incredibly draining to watch. It’s emotionally exhausting as every turn the story takes just takes you further down, almost never attempting to climb up towards something hopeful.
The themes of heritage, consequence, family, and fate are heavily dealt throughout the movie, sometimes relying on a few revelations that seem just a tad too contrived and unlikely. The music, as well, sometimes comes across as far too forced, with plunking chords of drama heralding heavy thoughts. That over-reaching to emphasize the underlying themes, and the long running time in a drawn out story are detractors here, making the film harder to watch than I think was intended. It think it is important to note, though, that I don’t think this film is intended to be easy to watch. It is supposed to make you uncomfortable and depressed, bringing real emotion to the playing field. This is not a happy movie – did you pick up on that yet?
It is also worth noting that there is some superb camera work at play here as well, especially the very first extended tracking shot that follows Ryan Gosling through a loud and dirty carnival crowd, seamlessly ending with him in the motorcycle cage putting on his daredevil show. That first shot sets up the sometimes overpowering dramatic weight The Place Beyond the Pines is about to drop on your shoulders.
This is an intensely good movie, even if it is not “enjoyable,” in the usual sense, and well worth your time. It’s probably the first big movie of the year that is going to generate some awards buzz, so catch it if you can.
My Rating, Four out of Five Hats
Mrs. Hamster did not attend this screening
The Place Beyond the Pines has been in limited release and expands to 1,542 theaters April 19