When it came to writing my ‘Top 5 of the decade’ list, I had at least 15 films down as potentials. One of those movies that just missed the cut, was Derek Cianfrance’s 2012 drama, The Place Beyond the Pines.
Starring Ryan Gosling as Luke Glanton, during what I’d argue was his golden glow-up, as a motorcycle stunt rider who turns to crime upon discovering he has a child to provide for. He soon meets Robin (Ben Mendelsohn), an auto mechanic who takes an interest in Luke’s riding ability and hatches a surefire plan to resolve his money issue. Hot on his trail though, is officer Avery Cross (Bradley Cooper). A rookie to the force who is willing to do whatever it takes to work his way up the ranks.
Gosling doubles up on his success of ‘Drive’ with another career defining performance. From its almost wordless, one-shot opening sequence, we see Gosling caked in tattoo’s, flinging his switchblade, before making his way from his carnival trailer, to the ‘Wall Of Death’ AKA, his job. Based on this scene alone, we see he lives a reckless lifestyle, but seemingly content on what his life has become. That is until old flame Romina Gutierrez (Eva Mendes) comes back into his life with the news of a child he was previously unaware of. This is what kickstarts a string of bad life decisions.
Robin is a lonely man. Everything he has, is within the auto garage he owns. His encounters with Luke are awkward but stems from a life of living alone. As luck would have it for the both of them, Luke quits his job in search of finding a more sustainable income. Robin’s history of being a small time bank robber is enticing enough to lure Luke into the outlaw life.
This was perhaps my first movie encounter with Mendelsohn, and it was the perfect way to break into his filmography. His demeanour is constantly haphazard and his motives never seem clear, but their money making plan only works for as long as their partnership does.
Luke quickly falls into the rush and his increasing ambition goes noticed by the police officers of Schenectady, N.Y. in which the film is set. That’s how Avery Cross becomes a part of the story. Bradley Cooper had dabbled in the action genre in previous roles, but Cianfrance’s neat narrative tests his ability. Cooper’s character is naive and acts without precaution, with a high level of cockiness. As a new father himself, Avery’s drive is to provide and protect for his child and wife, Jennifer (Rose Byrne).
We associate all media as having a beginning, middle and an end. It’s the basis for any story, and allows for easy development to further that story, regardless of what it is you’re trying to tell. Cianfrance knew how to perfect that formula in this movie’s narrative. It is structurally one of the most impressive films in recent memory. A film made up of three, wonderfully unique acts shoehorned by one central theme. A cops and robbers tale, that’s willing to take huge risks. Betrayal, corruption and a sick twist-of-fate all play huge parts in its plot development.
The lack of beauty in its setting ironically adds to the beauty of the films overall execution. Wether it’s in the shaky cam moments of watching Luke ride off into the ‘pines’, or its frantic, tense and often gripping chase sequences, Cianfrance and cinematographer Sean Bobbitt utilise both the suburban and rural areas of Schenectady, N.Y. terrifically. Add a melancholic soundtrack to play throughout, and you really see it all piece together.
It had been a few years since I last revisited Cianfrance’s under-appreciated masterpiece, which is one of the reasons it just missed out on a spot in my top 5 list, and since watching it again it seems it missed out by the slimmest of margins. The Place Beyond the Pines is an enthralling tale in which every performance, every act and every little piece that goes on behind camera play crucial parts of making the story work as a whole. I think it’s time we bring this back into the public eye.