Note: Andrew Robinson’s review originally ran during TIFF 2012, but we’re re-running it now as the film opens in limited theatrical release.
Derek Cianfrance‘s The Place Beyond the Pines is broken up into three chapters. We open with Luke (Ryan Gosling) coming back into town with the circus and finding out that he has a son. He decides to stick around, but since he’s unable to make a living to support his family, he begins robbing banks using his skills as a professional motor bike rider.
The narrative is then handed over to Avery Cross (Bradley Cooper), a police officer heading into politics and struggling with family matters. The film takes its time in making sure that we get a good grasp on each character as there’s very little overlap in screen time between each. The reckless rise of Gosling’s bank robbing spree and the troubled rise of Cooper’s political/social standing in the world parallel one another beautifully.
What the film truly discusses is what someone is willing to do selflessly for others. While, morally, Cooper and Gosling’s acts are complete opposites of each other, their motivations start out in the same place, the intention to provide for their family. Luke’s robbing banks was never about himself; he never wants to take credit for them, reflecting his clear shame. Cross’s actions are one of motivations head-butting his own desires, even at the expense of his son’s affection.
To its merit, the film constantly utilizes this side-by-side effect to show how divided the world can be. It’s a bit like in The Departed when Jack Nicholson’s Frank Costello says “they would say we can become cops or criminals…when you’re facing a loaded gun, what’s the difference?”. Place Beyond the Pines actually tries to take a deeper look at that loaded gun in order to decipher a real difference. How do the paths to either side of the law diverge, and does either automatically reduce you to good or evil?
Most every element of the film is impeccable. The only real issue with the story might be Cross’s untold guilt. For the entirety of the second act, Cooper’s character spends most of his time burying a deep-seated ache for something which he did in his past. The problem is that its rooted solely in his personal viewpoint, and while it’s perfectly valid, he borders on becoming an annoying character that keeps whining for extended periods of time.
A few choice shots in the film are slightly off-putting too. A good part of the film looks gorgeous, from the opening tracking shot which takes Gosling from his trailer to the ball of death where he and his partners ride like crazy for the circus, to the very first moment we see Bradley Cooper jump out of his squad car. However, a few bike sequences early in the movie where we see Gosling going through the woods look almost like cinematographer, Sean Bobbitt, used a camera phone attached to the head of the bike. It’s frustrating to view the bumps and bruises of an almost horribly pixilated YouTube video on screen.
These are minor issues, though. Regardless of complaints, the film remains one of the most conversational pieces of TIFF so far, as it will undoubtedly be for the next year or so when the film’s eventual release happens.
The Upside: Supporting performance by Ben Mendelsohn is nomination worthy
The Downside: Not a film that you can watch casually
On the Side: Could be an unofficial prequel to Drive