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The Place Beyond the Pines (2013)

March 29, 2013

The-Place-Beyond-the-Pines-movie-posterI truly appreciated The Place Beyond the Pines, honestly I did. It’s an intricate narrative that stretches itself over a span on years to tell the roundabout story of how the actions of a petty thief and rookie cop affect their immediate families in the present and future. But, my problem with The Place Beyond the Pines is that as a story is just doesn’t know when to stop. It continues on as if writer director Derek Cianfrance had this grand idea in his head, so big that he couldn’t properly comb through the meandering thoughts to convey the finer details. In The Place Beyond the Pines we get the forest in all of its luscious, copious glory, but never see the individual trees to truly appreciate it’s potential.

Told in three chapters that each follow a different character, The Place Beyond the Pines transports audiences through various time frames. We start with the most titillating and interesting story of Handsome Luke (Ryan Gosling), a carefree stunt motorcyclist in Schenectady, NY on a carnival stint. There he runs in Romina (Eve Mendes), a former fling whom he later discovers is raising his infant son. Luke takes to a life crime, determined to care for his offspring, despite Romina now living with another man, Kofi (Mahershala Ali). Unfortunate circumstances lands Luke in the presence of rookie cop Avery Cross (Bradley Cooper). The story then shifts focus to the bland, less charismatic Avery. Post his encounter with Luke, Avery is attempting to raise his own infant son in the midst of a struggling relationship and media hype of being a hero. Avery soon rises in rank when he exposes corruption within the force, catapulting the film 15 years into the future to tell the story of how both Luke and Avery’s sons, Jason and AJ, meet and the sparks that ignite by their predestined flames.

The performances are fantastic, the direction even better. The story initially is a rollercoaster ride taking viewers over dips and around bends to show how far Luke will go to do what he feels is right, raise his son. But, The Place Beyond the Pines soon begins feeling like you’re riding the Gravitron, an interesting ride, however, you’re ultimately just stuck to a wall observing others and wondering when the ride will end. The Place Beyond the Pines is a completely different film by the time we are well into the second segment. And sure, the third chapter ties everything together, but, by that time Cianfrance has wasted so much time developing the drab story of Avery that when we meet their sons it’s slightly lackluster.

Cianfrance is no stranger to strong character development. Coming off the heels of his recent triumph, Blue Valentine, Cianfrance depicted the heart-breakingly gritty story of a couple falling out of love. He garnered fantastic performances from stars Michelle Williams and Ryan Gosling and his script was a dense examination on what made the two initially fall in love and how that fire was extinguished. Blue Valentine reaches deep into the cockles of your heart and twists it until you can’t breathe with sadness. The Place Beyond the Pines doesn’t nearly capture that sentiment, but it could have had it scraped most the second half of the film to spend more time developing secondary characters like Kofi and Romina and give more internal view into AJ and Jason. Instead, we are shown a paper thin layer of these characters making their personalities and decisions hard to grasp because we’re only meeting them at this one point in their lives.

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Nevertheless, the direction is phenomenal creating an atmosphere of tension and personal involvement through extreme tight close-ups and careful framing. The chase scenes featured throughout the film are some of the greatest in recent cinematic history and the soundtrack perfectly explores various feelings and emotions through conscientious song choice. Had Cianfrance edited his script down in order to pick up the pace and focus the direction of the film, The Place Beyond the Pines could have been an incredible viewing experience instead of a mildly entertaining one. Regardless, I still have faith and excitement for Cianfrance’s future works, as The Place Beyond the Pines is a reminder of his cutting-edged, remarkable talent.

SEE IT. It’s a bit ad nauseum, but a beautifully made film.

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