The Place Beyond the Pines, 2013
Director - Derek Cianfrance
Screenplay - Derek Cianfrance, Ben Coccio, Darius Marder
Unlikely settings often create the best backdrops. Thus is the case in The Place Beyond the Pines, an atmospheric drama set in the Schenectady area of upstate New York. Director Derek Cianfrance’s follow-up to 2010’s Blue Valentine is both thrilling and contemplative, a brooding exploration of familial obligation, twenty-first century blood-feuds, and the deconstruction of the American dream.
Pines opens on Luke Glanton (Ryan Gosling), a motorcycle stuntman who is part of a traveling act that frequents state fairs. He is visited by a former fling Romina (Eva Mendes) and discovers that not only does she have a son, but the child is his. Though Romina protests, Luke insists on quitting his job and settling down into a more stable profession. He hopes that this will lead to a happy, family life for the one-time lovers and their son. Instead he finds himself thrust into a series of bank robberies which prove financially lucrative, but ultimately self-destructive, and set him on a collision course with rookie cop Avery Cross (Bradley Cooper).
The meeting of Glanton and Cross is both inevitable and surprising, and it is in that moment that audiences will really get a handle on the type of film they are watching. Cianfrance has fashioned a film that is simple in its storytelling yet epic in scope. In a narrative spanning fifteen years Pines could easily have felt bloated, but Cianfrance smartly keeps the focus on just a handful of characters. The screenplay is targeted with laser-precision on Glanton and Cross, their individual moralities, and the legacies they leave.
The film is gorgeously shot, endless roads disappearing into sprawling forests coupled with the terrible beauty of decaying small-town Americana. Helping set the stage is Mike Patton’s score. Formidable and volatile, it illuminates every frame with such purpose that it is difficult to imagine the film sans its presence.
Pines really takes flight, however, thanks to its leading men. Gosling and Cooper have proved themselves in recent years to be two of the best actors in the business. The fact that a pair of household names can still disappear so completely into fictional roles is a testament to their versatility. Eva Mendes has never been better and supporting players Ray Liotta, Rose Byrne, and Bruce Greenwood make for great icing on the cake.
In The Place Beyond the Pines Cianfrance has crafted a captivating tale of love, honor, and obligation that will stick with audiences long after the final credits have rolled.