Derek Cianfrance has made another brilliantly pensive film about the failings of the human drive for progress in The Place Beyond the Pines.
Movies that treat small personal conflicts in sweepingly dramatic and devastating ways are often hard to watch, inching dangerously close to mushy melodrama. But the Blue Valentine director has an amazing ability to treat an intimate narrative like an epic poem.
The Place Beyond the Pines is actually three films. Three very good films. While they are woven together in a way that is initially jarring, Cianfrance’s structural decisions prove carefully thought-out and, indeed, riveting.
Ryan Gosling stars as Luke Glanton, a motorcycle stuntman at a rural fairground who discovers that he has a baby son. In an effort to support his new family, Glanton begins robbing banks.
But Glanton’s thrill-seeking personality takes over, and he becomes addicted to the rush he gets from the robberies.
In the second plotline, Bradley Cooper plays Avery Cross, a young cop trying to find a place in the tightly-knit force. When a heroic act thrusts him in the public eye, he discovers that the station is riddled with corruption.
Then, to finish the triptych, Dane DeHaan plays a misguided high school kid trying to find the truth about his father.
All three of the film’s main actors turn in incredibly nuanced performances. In fact, the entire cast, from Eva Mendes as an emotionally exhausted mother to Ray Liotta as a degenerate cop, is superb.
The best performances, however, may have come Ben Mendelsohn and Emory Cohen in supporting roles as a well-meaning auto repairman and a drug-obsessed high school bully, respectively.
The Place Beyond the Pines combs through the human condition with elegant deftness. What does it mean to love? To hate? To fear? Instead of simply showing us a man who loves, hates, fears, Cianfrance subtly dissects those emotions before our eyes.
Breathtaking cinematography from Sean Bobbitt places the audience into a world rich in greens and whites, where the characters, the trees, and the walls of the houses blend into one Earth tone, as if to suggest that these are not characters, but explorations into our very nature.
The Place Beyond the Pines is easily one of the best films of the year so far, and is an early contender for Oscar nods in more than one category.