Thursday, 18 April 2013

The Place Beyond The Pines - A Review

From Derek Cianfrance, director of the acclaimed Blue Valentine in 2010, comes The Place Beyond The Pines, a three part crime drama that examines both sides of the law and the issue of morality within them. Cianfrance has wisely teamed up again with Ryan Gosling, whose skillful portrayal as one half of a broken marriage in Blue Valentine helped establish the actor as one of the finest in the world today, but Gosling is not the only heavyweight among this fine list of acting talent as he is joined by Bradley Cooper, Eva Mendes, Ben Mendelsohn and Ray Liotta to name but a few of the standout members of the superstar cast.

The story begins in Altamont, a small village estate in New York where Romina (Mendes) lives with her one year old son. Luke (Gosling) is a stunt motorcyclist employed by a travelling fair which is in town for the weekend, however upon learning that the child is his own following a previous fling between the young parents, Luke decides to remain in the town despite his total lack of prospects. In order to provide for his new found family, Luke begins to rob local banks with the help of his partner and friend Robin (Mendelsohn). However it's not long before things take a turn for the worse and local cop Avery Cross is drawn into events, transforming his own life from one of peaceful security into a chaotic mess.

The lives of the two main characters in criminal Luke and Officer Cross seem near identically mirrored save for one important factor- their social stance, which is contrasted heavily between the two throughout the film as Cianfrance examines what it means to come from different class and what you are destined to become as a member of your particular social position. Both characters are definitive products of their environment yet there are deeper issues of morality and the human condition raised throughout as Luke struggles to better himself while Avery deals with the corruption and treachery that surrounds him in the force.

As the movie progresses we are shown the development of both characters offspring and the results of their manner of upbringing. Portrayed by Dane DeHaan and Emory Cohen respectfully, Jason (Luke's son) and AJ (Avery's) unknowingly cross paths and we are once again faced with tough questions as Cianfrance confronts his audience with two young boys who have undoubtedly been affected for better or worse by their respective fathers. Just as with the boys' parents before them, the director does not wish to provide us with answers, but rather present us with a realistic, unflinching portrayal of humanity and the consequence of action.

The result is a shattering, emotional film that challenges and moves the viewer much like the director's previous success, and for many of the same reasons. Cianfrance has a flair for presenting his characters and their settings in the purest, most honest and genuine situations with a touch of realism that is sometimes almost frightening. His shaky camera work could be mistaken as amateurish but in fact it provides the film with an intimate touch so vivid that you'll barely feel a distance between yourself and those onscreen. The emotive soundtrack is another feature that Cianfrance fans will be familiar with and it creates an overwhelmingly tense, meaningful and moving atmosphere over the course of the 140 minute running time.

The director is well assisted by the outstanding cast, all of whom step up to deliver affecting, thoughtful performances. Cooper dominates as the rookie Officer caught in a web of lies and deceit, unsure of where to turn and who to trust, while Liotta is a nasty, menacing figure as the veteran crooked cop. Further down the line in the story is where we find our best performance however, as DeHaan effortlessly outshines this outstanding cast with his disturbing, heart breaking performance as a child lost in the terrible world he inhabits. Fans of Ryan Gosling will perhaps find it unusual that I haven't mentioned him in glowing terms just yet, and this is because it must be said he is slightly underused, but while onscreen the Canadian is his usual absorbing self.

Ultimately, The Place Beyond The Pines marks the true arrival of a very real directing talent. At 38, Derek Cianfrance has followed up his debut feature with an exquisite social analysis that engages and moves the audience just the same as Blue Valentine before it, and for this, his is a name that should be paid attention to starting right now. But even if this potential is never delivered upon (and I absolutely believe it will be), The Place Beyond The Pines will ensure that Cianfrance's work is not forgotten anytime soon. A stunningly poignant, tender mini-masterpiece.


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