Luke (Ryan Gosling) is a motorcycle stunt rider who discovers he has a young son with former girlfriend Romina (Eva Mendes). In order to provide for his son, he turns to robbing banks, but meets his match when he comes up against rookie cop Avery (Bradley Cooper). Despite only meeting fleetingly, their confrontation will have lasting consequences.
The Place Beyond the Pines tries something quite tricky. It attempts to create a large-scale story spanning over 15 years whilst trying to keep the focus very much on the characters. It examines the theme of legacy; how the actions of one person can have dramatic ramifications for others years later. It’s an ambitious film, but one that director and co-writer Derek Cianfrance handles admirably for the most part.
The film is a triptych of sorts, split into three distinct sections, each blending into the next. What happens in one section of the film has distinct consequences for what’s to come, and the writing neatly knits the various plot strands together. It could easily have got tied up in itself but it remains fluid and uncomplicated throughout.
It does suffer a little from pacing issues, however. The first third of the film, featuring Ryan Gosling’s bank robbing stunt rider, is (unsurprisingly given that description) the most interesting and exciting part of the film. After that the film slows and never really reaches the same level again. The final third with Avery’s son AJ is perhaps the weakest section, primarily because it asks us to invest in characters with whom we’ve had no previous involvement. It’s interesting to see how what’s gone before affects AJ and his friend but being introduced to two new characters so late on in the film is a big ask of the audience.
Performances are generally strong across the board. Mendes and Cooper are believable in their roles and Gosling plays yet another Drive-esque role as the quiet, sultry anti-hero. He may be becoming known as somewhat of a one trick pony but, to be honest, this works pretty perfectly for the role. There are also a number of strong auxilliary performances. Ray Liotta is excellent as Avery’s corrupt cop colleague, whilst Mahershala Ali is also strong as Kofi, Luke’s competition in his relationship with Romina. Dane DeHaan is also worthy of a mention as AJ’s clearly damaged friend; DeHaan is really establishing himself as a fine young actor.
The Place Beyond the Pines does require a certain amount of effort from its audience. The film methodically explores the characters and the world they’re in, never rushing or unnecessarily forcing its messages. It asks the viewer to be patient and actually think about the characters, their motivations and the consequences their actions have, which is exactly what good filmmaking should do.