The Place Beyond the Pines is a film that is deeply aware that it is trying to send a message, and then tries to thump it into the audience’s head for the next two hours. Luckily for it, Derek Cianfrance has written and directed a deeply moving and engaging film that hosts superb performances, in particular from Ryan Gosling and Dane DeHaan. Both of these combine to allow it to rise above other, traditional melodramas that have hit theatres. Its flaw only really becomes apparent in the heavy-handed, flimsy third act, which is only really injected with life by DeHaan.
At its heart, The Place Beyond the Pines is a story about fathers-and-sons (while two generations are featured in the film, the impact of the older generation of fathers is an integral part of the story) and how their actions impact each other. It is even more greatly highlighted by the presence of Kofi and his interaction with his stepson. I thought that the film portrayed this realistically and gut-wrenchingly. It aptly brings up the question of how to get this particular relationship right. In the context of what the film was trying to achieve, it was easier to stomach, although not ignore, the lack of any kind of legitimate female presence in the film other than as sideshows. Eva Mendes and Rose Byrne, while doing what they could with their roles, had absolutely nothing to work with.
I enjoyed the way that Cianfrance shot his movie. It was captivating and showed an awareness of the story the film was telling. There was no pomp or gratuity – Cianfrance clearly wanted his story and message to stand on its own. This allowed me as a viewer to feel the reality of the situations the characters were put in.
While all performances were good, I sadly felt that Bradley Cooper was overmatched by Gosling. He wasn’t bad, but he just wasn’t as believable in his role as Gosling was. The same can’t be said for the younger generation. Emory Cohen, who plays Bradley’s son later in the film, was actually laughably bad. He is easily overshadowed by DeHaan (easily) and I’m still unclear as to whether this is a slight on Cohen or a ringing endorsement of DeHaan. To be fair, he probably had the least complex, most one-sidedly irritating roles in the film.
The Place Beyond the Pines is a deeply dark, tragic film with little to really feel good about. The messaging is too heavy-handed at times. But solid storytelling from Cianfrance, other than the weak third act, and gritty performances from its actors make it a must-see.