April 12, 2013 by abbyo
I’ve made the point before that crime movies have a way of speaking truths about human experience in a unique way. The best crime dramas are movies that explore the deeper effects of doing wrong—why people do it, how it changes them, and the little excuses people make to convince themselves that what they’re doing isn’t wrong, necessarily, or at the very least that it isn’t going to change them.
It seems these are themes that director Derek Cianfrance understands implicitly, because his new film “The Place Beyond the Pines,” which opens nationwide today, is totally committed to telling an epic story that touches all of these themes. “The Place Beyond the Pines” explores not only the immediate effects of a criminal act, but the further ripples of that act, and the smaller acts that accompany it, over years and even over generations. It does so in a way that’s profound and heartbreaking.
The movie is broken up into three acts. The first follows Luke (Ryan Gosling), a carnival stunt rider who discovers suddenly that he fathered a child, now a year old, during an affair with a woman, Romina (Eva Mendes). Luke is determined to stick around and provide for his son. To that end, he starts robbing banks, using his riding skills to make adrenaline-pounding effective getaways from the cops.
The film then switches perspectives to rookie cop Avery Cross (Bradley Cooper), who ends up apprehending Luke. He’s also got a one-year-old boy, as well as a strained relationship with his wife and his father. After discovering corruption in the force, Avery’s torn between reporting what he knows and allowing the dirty police work to continue, but staying in the good graces of his colleagues on the force. The movie’s final third flashes forward 15 years later to show the relationship between Avery’s son and Luke’s son, now both in high school.
“The Place Beyond the Pines” isn’t exactly a movie you watch casually. It’s got the elements of an action thriller, but the storytelling and look of an art film. Even the movie’s most exciting scenes—robberies, car chases and the like, are shot in such a way that you feel a pretty close approximation of what the characters would really feel in that situation. For example, Luke’s first bank robbery is nerve-racking to watch, and following his escape I felt the bottom drop out of my stomach, and I think my pulse literally quickened.
The result of all this atmosphere, relatable characters and effective filming is a serious movie that’s also very accessible. At two hours and twenty minutes, “The Place Beyond the Pines” is a pretty fair time investment, but it’s an investment that most audiences will probably be willing to make. The performances are all very realistic and compelling, both for the major players like Gosling, Mendes and Cooper, and for supporting actors like Ben Mendelsohn (who’s had one heck of a run lately) and up-and-comer Dane DeHaan.
If you like your crime movies thoughtful and smart, “The Place Beyond the Pines” is a great watch. It’s meditative without being ponderous, exciting without romanticizing the violence it portrays, and has plenty to say on the subjects of social division, fatherhood and the corrupting nature of slowly shifting morals. It’s a downer, but also a refreshingly real look at the long-term consequences of desperate actions.
Note: In the weeks since my last post, I’ve been putting together reviews for MovieBoozer and Scene Stealers. Here are links to my two latest reviews, for Jurassic Park 3D and One Small Hitch, which screens this weekend at the Kansas City Film Festival. I’m doing some coverage of KCFF this year for Scene Stealers, so check back here for links to those reviews!