“Natural law. Sons are put on this earth to trouble their fathers.”
-John Rooney(Paul Newman) in Road To Perdition
The Place Beyond the Pines is the first great movie of 2013. A powerful tale of fathers and sons that hits close to home for any parent and sinks its hooks deep into you that stay there long after the credits roll. Writer/Director Derek Cianfrance made this movie for artistic and personal reasons and you feel that when you watch it. This is a movie that matters and carries the epic ambition of a renegade filmmaker and Cianfrance has the cast to back up his words and direction.
Ryan Gosling plays Luke Glanton, a motorcycle stunt man who travels with a circus and performs a daredevil stunt with his crew, “Luke and the Hearthrobs”, where he and two crew members ride around a metal globe for minutes. Outside of his gig, Glanton suffers from detachment and an empty vessel of a future until a past love Romena(Eva Mendes, radiating urgency and grace hand in hand) shows up after his performance.
When he finds out that he has a child to provide for, his life gets turned upside down. He wants to be the man that he never had the urge to be but the only problem is Romena has a house, a man and a life. Glanton’s struggle to become someone he is not sends him into a life of crime and on a collision course with rookie cop Avery Cross (Cooper, better than ever) one fateful afternoon. Cross is a honorable cop who will see his life forever changed after his encounter with Glanton. Each man’s son deals with the sins of their fathers and that is show in the last third of the film in an effective manner. I will say no more because the secret juice of this flick is the unfolding of powerful events.
The cast is top notch in every role down to the bit parts and glimpses. Gosling, using their hypnotic blue snake eyes to his advantage here, paints a picture of a man going against his own code in order to change his life. His acts aren’t noble, but Gosling’s heartbreaking portrayal grips our heart. Cooper, given the less flashy role, is superb here as a smart proud cop just trying to do the right thing and avoid the corruption in his department. A man in the depths of ethical boundaries trying to save his soul, Cooper finds a real balance in this man whose life is changed by a heroic if flawed event.
Cross’ department is marred in corruption, with the head of the dirty snake coming from Detective Deluca, brought to brutal life with vitality by Ray Liotta, a man who knows his way around a crooked officer. Mendes and Rose Byrne are effective and given role of substance as the women in the lead characters lives. Bruce Greenwood has a small yet vital role as a District Attorney and Ben Mendelsohn is great as a friend of Luke’s. The sons are played by Dane DeHaan and Emory Cohen and they give their own characters a darker shade of grey of expected. The film is carried by them all, but the heart and soul of the film are Gosling and Cooper. Their screen time together is extremely short, but the intertwined lives of Luke and Avery make you feel like their faceoff lasted longer in legacy.
Every scene bristles with imminent and infinite ominous intensity like you are watching a car spiral out of control. Sean Bobbit’s cinematography is Oscar worthy, and you get the feel of his intense settings with an extended unbroken take of Luke walking from his tent to his bike in a scene that opens the film. Other scenes are equally as visceral, such a chase scene where our point of view comes from the cop and not the robber. The score and background noise come and go to set up the incoming doom of each scene and it’s effective because of the weighty material. This pulverizing tale kept me close and on the edge of my seat. You feel everything the characters do and that is due to a terrific cast who stick to their natural talents and leave everything on the stage here.
Cianfrance is a marvel with the camera here, never letting us forget that what we are seeing is memorable and is poised to rock our souls. Some will dismiss the film as full of dread and a downer, but that is foolhardy. Pines is a movie on a mission, plunging us into the world of two men whose lives aren’t too different when examined under a microscope instead of a brief glimpse. The end signifies a higher dose of hope than gloom and that is the brave roller coaster ride we take in the film. Cianfrance and Gosling got the idea on the set of their first collaboration, Blue Valentine (a fist smash of a romance drama) when the actor wanted to rob banks. The director decided to make the film when his wife was pregnant with their second son because he wanted to tell a tale of the sins of fathers leaving imprints on their son’s lives. The result is quite substantial and will be enjoyed by future generations as a piece of bravura filmmaking.
It’s not letting go of me anytime soon. That is a sign of go for broke storytelling that is aimed not just to please the movie loving soul but to feed it some poignant advice as well. The Place Beyond The Pines is a must see film and the first of its kind of 2013.