Despite its undeniable qualities, The Place Beyond the Pines will no doubt leave many viewers disappointed. They shouldn’t be dissatisfied with the performances from any of the key players in this expansive narrative, nor should they be disappointed with the direction from Derek Cianfrance, however they may come away frustrated that the movie they have seen is nothing at all like the movie that features in the trailers and television advertisements, or any of the marketing for that matter. Pitched as an action-packed crime caper with Ryan Gosling front and centre of the narrative, the film is much, much more than that. In fact, almost all of the action sequences, which are very well staged, are over before the film reaches the halfway point.
The Place Beyond the Pines is considerably more subdued than any of the pre-release publicity would have us believe. Once Gosling’s motorcycle stuntman Luke meets his maker at the hands of rookie cop Avery (Bradley Cooper), the movie shifts gear into an examination of police corruption and how the lingering legacy of events from the past continue to haunt future generations. With Gosling’s early demise, Cooper steps up to assume the lead as a conflicted cop tormented about his role in the death of a young father and his subsequent exposure to the underbelly of a small town police force that is rotten to the core. Sacrificing his marriage along the way, Avery’s career continues on an upward trajectory that carries him all way to the Attorney-General’s office despite the best efforts of his teenage son AJ (Emory Cohen) whose utter lack of conscience and regard for anybody else extends beyond teenage cliché into much nastier material, the motivation for which is never really explained.
The performances are all very strong, with Eva Mendes a standout as Romina a mother forced to reconcile the actions of her past with the consequences they reap long into the future. Gosling and Cooper are also excellent and Australia’s Ben Mendelsohn is equal parts menacing and pathetic as Robin, a mechanic with a criminal past who lures Luke – desperate to provide financial support to the son he never knew he had and reclaim Romina as his own – into a series of bank heists that end tragically. Ray Liotta always brings something special to the equation and this occasion is no exception, his turn as morally bankrupt police detective Deluca is creepy to the core.
The talented Rose Byrne is very much under utilised in her role as Avery’s wife Jennifer. The beautiful Australian actress really doesn’t get to do much other than complain about, and ultimately divorce, Avery after he is shot in a showdown with Luke that renders him a hero of the eyes of everybody else in their community.
Derek Cianfrance is a good film maker and his previous effort Blue Valentine, which also features Gosling, was a bleak but thoroughly engaging drama. He has done a good job here again in eliciting great performances from a diverse cast to construct a gripping – and necessarily long given the breadth of the narrative – drama that can be compared favourably with any other release so far this year. Just be warned, as good as it might be, it is not the film you think it is.