Wading through the tepid waters of today's Hollywood blockbusters, I love when an Indie is so undeniably perfect that it makes me fall in love with film all over again. "The Place Beyond the Pines" is one of those movies that will have you asking yourself, "how did the filmmaker do that?" Not just technically, but emotionally as well. The filmmaker in question is one Derek Cianfrance. A filmmaker who rose to notoriety with the terribly overrated "Blue Valentine". But with the help of the writing team of Ben Coccio and Darius Marder, and I mustn't forget a superbly constructed ensemble, including the likes of Ryan Gosling, Eva Mendes, Bradley Cooper, Rose Byrne, Bruce Greenwood and Ray Liotta, Cianfrance has created the best film of the year (so far).
"The Place Beyond the Pines" is a story told in three parts; three storylines which parallel and intersect over and over again in the most breathtaking ways. That said, I don't know how much I can even divulge from each without spoiling this magnificently structured tale of regret. But, here's what I will say:
The first part is what I will refer to as "the Ryan Gosling story" (on paper, the most powerful of the three). From the initial stunning long take where the camera follows Luke (Gosling) a motorcycle stunt rider, as he walks through a carnival, into the opening of a tent, gets on a motorcycle and takes his place as the third man of a motorcycle stunt team, the audience should realize that they are about to see something special. After the show, Luke runs into an old fling named Romina (Mendes) soon discovering that not only has she moved on (she has a new boyfriend) but also that he has fathered an infant son with her, that he never knew about. Soon he takes it upon himself to attempt to take care of his child by illegal means. Yeah, that's right, he becomes a bank robber.
The second story is about Avery (Cooper) a "good cop", who becomes disillusioned when he gets mixed up in a corrupt system, fronted by Ray Liotta and his cronies. Kind of like a better version of "Cop Land". Oh, and Avery also has an infant son.
The third story concerns...well I can't really tell you without spoiling anything. Just know that in this final act (which was my favorite) is where the storylines converge into Greek tragedy proportions. And it's funny because this is the storyline that, on paper, is the weakest of the three and for a moment seems like it's going to fall apart upon the initial reveal; but it doesn't. In fact, it is the two performances from the up and coming Dane DeHaan (Chronicle) and a captivating performance from virtual unknown Emory Cohen (who personally stands as my favorite performance of the film) which carry the final thirty minutes of this movie.
The reason this Triptych format is one of the most well constructed I've ever seen, is simply because audiences don't have to wait until the final act for the stories to converge. The brilliance lies in Cianfrance's ability to cause his three stories to intersect over and over again throughout the entire film. Which leads me to undoubtedly the most interesting factor of this movie; i.e. how it is almost entirely predicated on contrivances. OK, so of course a movie where multiple storylines converge into one is going to have contrivances; contrivances dealing with chance meetings or dealing with introducing major characters in the late second act or early third. But let me tell you, though there are many "chance meeting" contrivances here, Cianfrance, Coccio and Marder have constructed such an airtight script, that nothing seems farfetched or unbelievable for a second.
The Acting: As exceptional as the acting was throughout (yes, even from Eva Mendes) the performance which may steal the show for many, may not be from the actor you think. Not to say Gosling isn't doing his thing here, but Cianfrance isn't the first person to recognize what Gosling can do with a single longing gaze. And basically Gosling, through no fault of his own, puts forth a performance which we (as viewers) are accustomed to seeing. But, Bradley Cooper is simply on another level here, putting forth a stripped down performance, which is in turn the best performance of his career.
Final Thought: As a forewarning, I should state that "The Place Beyond the Pines" is one movie which is meant to put its audiences through the emotional ringer. So if you aren't in the mood for something heavy, then you may want to see "Oblivion" or "Scary Movie 5" or some other mindless piece of crap like that. But if you are in the mood to see a film that will undoubtedly still be on everyone's lips come Oscar season, then this is not a movie to miss. Everybody is different, but when I see a great scene, a scene that engages me fully, a scene which transcends film altogether, it makes me smile. Suffice to say, throughout this film, I was all smiles. That statement leads me to this final question: This movie is so fantastic that even though it's only April, what could possibly come out this year that is going to be better than "The Place Beyond the Pines"?
Written by Markus Robinson, Edited by Nicole I. Ashland
Follow me on Twitter @moviesmarkus