Directed by Derek Cianfrance
19 April – 2 May 2012, DCA
Following a career defining role in Nicholas Winding Refn’s Drive (2011) and an underappreciated turn in George Clooney’s The Ides of March (2011), Ryan Gosling reunites with Blue Valentine (2010) director Derek Cianfrance for the pair’s, and indeed Cianfrance’s, second big screen venture. Given the resonance and popularity of their first collaboration, a gritty detailing of the evolution of a relationship, The Place Beyond The Pines arrives at the cinema with a weight of expectation. Thankfully, from the offset, The Place Beyond The Pines delivers a beautifully created story which is woven across different character arcs to form a movie about relationships; but whilst Blue Valentinefocuses on the romantic angle, The Place Beyond The Pines chooses to centre on the dynamics of fathers and sons.
The film opens with the sounds of heavy exhaling and the flick of a knife over the production credits. When the scene is revealed, it transpires that both noises are coming from Luke Glanton (Gosling), a stunt motorcycle rider who is effortlessly operating a switchblade in preparation for his next performance. This begins an incredible (and unbroken) tracking shot which follows Luke through the carnival which is his life and ends by showing his insane stunt. However, the track breaks, as does Luke’s idea of a life, when he encounters Romina (Eva Mendes), a woman he had a tryst with when he was last in town. Luke discovers that Romina has given birth to his son, and, quitting the carnival, the rider must find a new way to help his unconventional family.
For the first third of the film Luke is very rarely out of shot, driving the action as he does the bike, with a pace that cannot be sustained. That all changes when his story intersects with that of a young police officer, Avery Cross (Bradley Cooper), whose introduction signals a change in the narrative; as the middle third of the movie centres on Avery and his wife Jennifer (Rose Byrne). Tellingly, in this portion, it is now Cooper who is rarely off screen, and this effectively splits The Place Beyond The Pines into two separate films. However, both stories meld together to produce a surprise third act which follows both families, making it clear that Avery and Luke are two halves of the same whole.
This sort of symbolism is strewn throughout the film. For instance, when Luke spray-paints his bike black he explains that, “The bike is a part of the family.” The bike has been given human qualities by its rider and it happens to darken when Luke decides to venture into the criminal world. It becomes apparent, especially during the closing moments of the film, that the bike represents an extension of Luke and vice-versa.
There are also allusions to other popular films throughout. Be on the lookout for a dizzying scene which trails Luke (note the character name) at full speed through a forest in a clear nod to Return of the Jedi’s (1983) unforgettable speeder-bike chase. There is also a quote from The Empire Strikes Back(1980) during the final act, and considering the parental relationships explored within the film, one feels that Cianfrance may indeed have been influenced by the entire Star Wars saga.
Due to its three-part structure The Place Beyond The Pines can feel rather long and meandering in places. However, it all comes together to tell an epic story regarding the passing on of a father’s legacy, whether good or bad. Fans of Blue Valentine should recognise Cianfrance’s depiction of complex relationships, whilst everyone should take note of the film’s moral: if you have to change your life, do not do so too quickly or you will fall, because, “If you ride like lightning, you’re going to crash like thunder.”