Dir: Derek Cianfrance
On the Skids
Ryan Gosling’s motorbike stunt rider Luke in The Place Beyond The Pines may bear echoes of his near silent getaway specialist in Drive (2011), but that’s the only similarity this far more epic morality tale has with the smouldering neon cool of Nicolas Winding Refn’s earlier film.
Events are kick-started when he returns to a particular New York suburb with the travelling fair in which he performs. He learns he has fathered a child the last time he was in town, with Eva Mendes’ Ro. Forced to examine his priorities he decides to quit the circus and lay claim to his rights to raise the baby. The fact that Ro (impressively downplayed by Mendes) has settled down with a new man is immaterial to him. Driven by a fierce need to prove his value as a parent he soon falls into robbery as a way of affording extravagant gifts for the kid. He hooks up with loner mechanic Robin, played by a lightly greased Ben Mendelsohn. Impressed by his riding skills, it is he who first tempts Luke into utilising his talents on the wrong side of the law. The secret is to not do it too often he warns. But once Luke has tasted success, and increasingly convinced of his two-wheeled prowess on the escape, the lure to keep going was always going to prove too strong…
Cinematically, this is not a showcase for awe-inspiring high definition gloss and grand spectacular. It’s a far grimier, grainy affair, informed by a seventies sensibility. In one scene you can virtually taste the gunmetal being forced into the mouth. Yet the breathless pacing of this first act is entirely modern and the real-time nature in which the bike chases take off and are (just about) followed genuinely raises the pulse. Thrillingly executed, handycam style, you feel every cut and swerve as Gosling’s tearaway tears away.
This is merely the beginning. The core spark of the film only ignites once Bradley Cooper’s fresh-faced young cop gets caught up in pursuit. Gosling portrays Luke’s misguided attempts to do the right thing in characteristically muted yet brutal style. His portrayal is the heart of the film, both performance and narrative-wise. Next to this, Bradley Cooper’s Avery Cross doesn’t feel quite as convincing by comparison. His remarkable good looks, eyes as blue as the pristine cop shirt on his back, distract. However as time goes on his depiction rings truer as Cross climbs the slippery pole of local politics, maturing the necessary slick and ruthless streak. A brooding, pulsing soundtrack subtly revs up the action and is as dark and oppressive as the inner workings of the police force that Avery finds himself embroiled in.
The film follows the resulting aftermath over subsequent years in three clearly defined acts, in a structure that is original and audacious. While the ramifications remain intriguing until the end, the subtly exhilarating pace of the opening movement isn’t quite sustained. Yet this is a gripping, unpredictable, and weightily involving study of the butterfly effect down the generations. The Place Beyond The Pines is a reflection on the complexities of paternal relationships, and a contemporary meditation on the oldest of adages: that the sins of the father will inevitably be visited upon the son.
★ ★ ★ ½