Derek Cianfrance’s latest drama The Place Beyond the Pines is a towering achievement for the young filmmaker, quickly becoming the year’s best film by a landslide, thanks to Cianfrance’s epic scope, pacing and lasting direction that leaves the film sitting with you long after it’s over. Ryan Gosling provides another top-tier performance, as Bradley Cooper finally delivers “the one” that we’ve all been waiting for, plus a dozen scattered supporting roles that range from surprisingly good to downright impressive. The Place Beyond the Pines is absolutely perfect.
Luke (Ryan Gosling) is carnival stuntman that only sees as far as the handlebars on his dirt bike. He’s a daredevil with a short temper and one that rarely has time to stop, let alone settle down with a family. But one day he accidentally finds out that he had a child with an old fling (Eva Mendes) and suddenly he wants to embrace the family life, having been overtaken by love and strong feelings of responsibility and expectations.
Luke wants his child to have the life that he never had and because of that pressure he decides that robbing banks for quick cash is the only way to guarantee himself and his newly-formed family happiness. Luke isn’t dumb though and he knows that the faster he rides and the more jobs he pulls off will most-likely lead to him being caught or killed and yet he still faces those chances in hopes of gathering up enough money to support him and his family.
Avery (Bradley Cooper) is a do-good rookie cop in a corrupt part of town. He’s forced to use his weapon in the line of duty and now he must live with that decision and many others as his live comes crashing head-to-head with the law. He must now choose to become the honest and hard-working family cop that he’s always seen himself as or one of the many members of the corrupt and easily-persuaded that have slowly started to take over the town.
Can either men find it in them to become the fathers that their sons so desperately need or will life and its various obstacles bring down two decent people? Derek Cianfrance’s The Place Beyond the Pines asks that as well as many other questions that deal with father and son relationships and what it exactly means to leave behind a legacy. Pines is a stirring and often-times gripping drama, soaked in grimy realism and made even more haunting and powerful thanks to Mike Patton’s musical score.
Cianfrance’s film isn’t like most typical indie dramas by any stretch. It’s instead an epic drama that spans over decades and quickly becomes something massive and grand, yet always remaining personal and intimate where it counts. Pines shifts focus and changes characters several times, yet it always hovers over the same themes. The time period and people may change, but the tone and mood always remain the same as Cianfrance’s film swoops over countless characters while focusing on one strong message.
Ryan Gosling and Bradley Cooper receive top billing, yet only make up for a small portion of the film’s stacked cast. Gosling remains in a similar wheelhouse for the role of Luke, giving us yet another greasy-looking tough guy with a rough and broken heart of gold, while Bradley Cooper turns in his career-best performance as a crossed cop faced with many life-changing decisions.
Gosling doesn’t exceed expectations, but he certainly plays the part unlike any other young actor working in the field today. He knows how to remain subtle and calm, while also hinting at explosive aggression and a dark side that is constantly begging to be revealed. He keeps the acting portion of the film levelled, yet he never quite steals the show.
Cooper on the other hand completely nails it as the do-good cop Avery. Avery’s conflicted ideas and beliefs are presented with a very deep struggle that lies far below the surface. I wasn’t exactly sure that Cooper could even handle such a complex role, yet he does it with his usual flashy style and appeal; only this time with multiple emotions working below and above the surface. Cianfrance’s writing definitely lends Cooper a hand, but most of the character’s effectiveness goes to Cooper for being able to handle such a confusing, yet interesting character.
Dane DeHaan and several others play key supporting roles in the film that when added up equal nothing short of amazing. DeHaan sticks out above the rest because of the nature of his character, but don’t let that fool you into thinking that Ray Liotta, Rose Byrne or Ben Mendelsohn’s performances go to waste. Each and every one of them help the film become even more well-rounded and powerful from an acting standpoint.
Derek Cianfrance’s The Place Beyond the Pines is an achievement in dramatic filmmaking because of its ability to remain focused and strong, despite being spanned over such a long period of time. Most will be surprised and easily impressed with the film’s scope and Cianfrance’s patience as a storyteller, because most would have lost control over such an expansive tale, especially given the film’s running time and endless amount of on-screen talent, but Cianfrance somehow manages to balance it all out for a majority of the film’s time and because of that I consider The Place Beyond the Pines the year’s current best film so far and one of the single most important family dramas since The Godfather.
Universal’s 1080p video transfer best represents the film’s grimy and mostly ugly-looking locations and set pieces. Grain is present over the washed out and faded colors that mostly take up the film. Vibrant greens can be briefly seen during some of the film’s numerous outdoor scenes, but most of this transfer can be described as painfully faithful to the director and his cinematographer’s intentions. Skin tones are balanced and black levels remain consistent for most of the time. Don’t be alarmed by the film’s natural unappealing look and feel.
The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track is mixed with efficiency and realism. The opening titles show off most of what the film has to offer, constantly panning the music and cross-chatter between characters and random sound effects. The track mostly cruises from this point, keeping dialogue front-and-center as the main attraction, while never being afraid to let out some of the musical score when something heavy is about to happen. Seriously, Universal’s attention to detail makes for an almost flawless track.
Here’s a list of bonus material found on this combo pack:
- Audio Commentary: Director’s commentary featuring Derek Cianfrance telling various stories while also discussing the difficulty of the story and how he managed to wring out such impressive performances from every single member of his cast. His commentary is mostly an interesting one, but it does lose focus occasionally.
- Deleted and Extended Scenes (HD)
- Going to The Place Beyond the Pines (HD): An all too short 5-minute featurette.
- DVD Copy
- UltraViolet Copy
- Digital Copy
The Place Beyond the Pines currently sits high up on my list as the very best film of 2013 so far. There’s a chance that it gets topped off by the end of the year, but there’s also a chance that it remains there too, because Derek Cianfrance has managed to craft such a haunting drama that is constantly escalating itself and becoming even more impressive as the film slowly unfolds. The Place Beyond the Pines is staggering at times, but almost always remains epic in scope and focused on character building and story structuring.
The film loses its intensity towards the finale descent, but still keeps its overlying power and importance as a film about relationships formed and decisions being made that go on to last forever. Never before has a director captured such pain and struggle over a long period of time without completely losing focus like Derek Cianfrance.
The Place Beyond the Pines is a daring film that constantly pushes itself and the audience to new heights and the result is nothing short of spectacular. Universal’s Blu-Ray accompanies all of those thoughts and feelings, with near-perfect picture and audio and few special features to keep your brain thinking about the film long after it has ended. Buy it.
This review is based on a copy of the Blu-Ray that we received for reviewing purposes.