The film unfolds in three connecting story lines. The first stars Ryan Gosling as a rebellious motorcycle driver who works in a traveling carnival. After arriving in Schenectady, he find's that the girl he left a year ago (a deglamed, Eva Mendes) has given birth to his son. He quits his job on the road and takes up with a whacked-out auto mechanic (played creepily by Austrailian actor, Ben Mendelsohn) who convinces him that the only way to support his new-found family is to rob banks.
Gosling, after his stony turn in Drive, is becoming the go-to actor when it comes to mysterious anti-heroes. With his body covered in tattoos, his hair dyed bleach blonde, he becomes the picture of cool. Most of his lines are delivered with a cigarette dangling from his lips as if he can't even be bothered to take it out. Watching the film, I was reminded of Paul Newman or Steve McQueen in the way he embodies such ease and charisma. And like those icons of the screen, he's got the skill to be more than just a movie star. The scene in which he enters a church witnessing his son's baptism is especially moving.
The action then is passed off to Bradley Cooper playing a young cop. He has to deal with corruption within his unit (including a menacing Ray Liotta) and struggles at home with an inability to look at his newborn son. Cooper, who's better here than he was in his manic, one-note performance in Silver Linings Playbook, convincing plays a man at odds with himself. After years playing Frat boys and mindless comedies, he's quickly establishing himself as an actor to watch.
We then jump 15 years into the future (or present day, as the previous stories are told in the 90's) when we meet the teenage son of Ryan Gosling's character (Dane DeHaan) and Bradley Cooper's son (Emory Cohen) who form a friendship despite the odds against them. But, the tension between them threatens to unleash secrets from the past.
At 2 and a half hours, the film certainly has a lot to say. And the first time the narration gets passed off, I wondered if the story was in danger of spiraling out of control–Crushing under the weight of too many ideas. After all, why were we suddenly having to invest our time in a completely new character? Wouldn't it have made more sense to go back and forth between the two from the beginning? But, the addition of the third story line gave it cohesion for me. There were also times when the score seemed to overpower the actions on screen. It seemed too grand for what was occurring. After the film is viewed in its entirety, the scope of it made sense.
You start off believing that it's a small drama about a man trying to gain the love and trust of his family, but then the camera pulls back to show that's just a small part in the puzzle. Cianfrance is telling a much grander story, that you don't realize the impact of until viewed as a whole. I have a feeling this film is going to polarize audiences who are either going to be onboard with the narrative or those who believe it just doesn't come together. Sure, it may be big and messy. But, isn't that how families are to begin with? And I'd rather have it that way than a film that plays it safe. Those that risk the most have more too gain. Just ask those filmmaker's from Hollywood's Golden Age–the one's with the big ideas.
* * *
I attended an advanced screening of The Place Beyond the Pines at BAM that was attended by director and writer Derek Cianfrance, co-writer Daries Marder, and the young actors that play the sons in the third act, Dane DeHaan and Emory Cohen. Cianfrance had a lot of stories to tell which I'll share after the jump. Be warned, there be spoilers ahead...
|Marder, DeHaan, Cohen, and Cianfrance hogging the mic|