WARNING: There may be spoilers in this post, I would NOT recommend reading this until you have seen the film, because the unexpected plot turns really make this film.
From the trailer of The Place Beyond the Pines you’d expect a slightly more emotional than normal police/ bank robbery action film, with plenty of car chases, shooting and thrills.
This probably describes about the first 30 minutes of this film. After the introduction of these elements the film moves onto a much more avant-garde exploration of psychology, police corruption, the inability of society to protect its citizens, fatherhood, and heredity. The film is structured effectively into three distinct but extremely well linked ‘acts’ that really show how these themes affect different social classes and generations.
In terms of the technical elements of the film, they were overall really beautiful. There was great experimentation with camera angles, in particular following shots during the car chases and bike rides, that felt as if you were another rider behind the main actor. The soundtrack was very varied and subtle, it didn’t intrude on the action but very much added to it. In general the style of the film was much more experimental than your average action film – the shots were longer, more varied and very well thought out.
The Place Beyond the Pines stars Ryan Gosling as a professional motorbike rider turned bank robber, Bradley Cooper plays the beat cop who becomes a false hero, and Eva Mendes is Gosling’s tortured love interest and mother of his child. I am a huge fan of Ryan Gosling(‘s face) and in this film he really showed a breadth of skill I had not seen before. He was very subtle with his emotions, and you could tell he really tried to embody his character. He in fact chose and designed all of the tattoos his character has, and just in those designs you can see how much he had considered his character. Gosling also tackled the physical elements of the character extremely well, reportedly gaining 40 pounds of muscle for the film. While Bradley Cooper undoubtedly moves away from his stock comedy character in this film, the fact that I found him horrifically unlikeable really marred what many critics have hailed as his best performance yet. Cooper was at times powerful, and portrayed the complexities of his character well, but at the same time I cannot help but compare this to the greater variety of his performance in Silver Linings Playbook (a film I would highly recommend). Eva Mendes played the mildly hysterical love interest well, however at times I did find that her slightly over the top performance jarred somewhat with the much more subtle characters with whom she was interacting. In the final third of the film the focus turns to the sons of Gosling and Cooper’s characters, who were played by Dane Dehaan and Emory Cohen. These relatively unknown actors really stole the last part of the film for me – they portrayed some of the key themes with great strength and emotion. While Cohen’s character (like that of his ‘father’) was very unlikable, I felt he played this really well and exaggerated the right traits for the role. Dehaan had an incredible intensity about him, and the final shot of him riding away on a motorbike just gave me shivers.
My overall impressions were really quite positive. While I can see how some people have got bored during this film – it is long and much slower than you would expect from a film seemingly placed in the action genre – I am quite partial to a well considered film that allows the actors to explore the emotional depths of the script to a greater extent. At times it felt like I was watching 3 different films, but by the end all the story lines were completely woven together. I think this is a huge leap for the main actors in relation to their stock characters, and I would say that the film is a real masterpiece. The Place Beyond the Pines was emotional, thematically interesting, but I think the best word I could use to describe it is simply beautiful.