Gosling plays Luke Glanton, a tattooed stunt rider who discovers that he conceived a son in a one night stand with a waitress. Unable to get an honest job, he turns his motorcycling skills to the lucrative business of robbing banks, in order to try and support his son. Elsewhere, New York beat cop Avery Cross becomes entangled with Luke and his family in the course of duty, with dramatic consequences for both men, and even for their sons.
This is one of those films where it's better to go in cold, knowing as little about how the film unfolds as possible, so I'll tread as lightly as the plot requires. Having said that it's got a three-act structure, it's far more in the theatrical sense than in the sense of some formulaic “Save The Cat” framework. Even if the difference in themes and focus between acts were not enough, the breaks between acts are clearly delineated by a dip to black.
If there were a danger of such a structure feeling segmented and episodic, then the subtle triumph of Cianfrance's film is in the use of recurring motifs, and tragic overtones, which unify different characters from different lifestyles, and even across different generations. There's a great deal of set-up and pay-off, with much of the former coming from the first, Luke-centric third of the film. Gosling's character even has “Heartthrob” tattooed across his neck, but his role marks another bold choice for the actor, and another great performance- I think doing Gangster Squad probably paid for this one.
However, the arguable protagonist of The Place Beyond The Pines is Bradley Cooper's Cross, whose actions are central in the middle third, and reverberate both backwards and forwards through the rest of the film. After a couple of good performances, Cooper really shows his mettle here, with a nuanced performance that is, by turns, both sympathetic and loathsome. He's fundamentally a good guy, but as in Luke's first-act interactions with a terrifically scuzzy Ben Mendelsohn, Cross is led astray by corrupt cop Ray Liotta (isn't this a tautology by now?) and even by the better intentions of Harris Yulin, as his father.
Of course, it's most obviously about fathers and sons, and about how sons are affected by the legacy of their fathers, as becomes clear in the surprising third act. I'm hesitant to say any more about the final act, except that it only really works by the grace of great turns by Dane DeHaan and Emory Cohen, and that I have to agree with the general consensus that it's the weakest of the three sections. The film kind of hits the brakes at this juncture, and it slows to a somewhat unsatisfying conclusion, slightly redeemed by a strong final scene.
The Place Beyond The Pines has grand, sweeping ambitions, and it certainly gets most of the way towards achieving them. It's not just in the division of acts- there's potentially enough character and plot here to have made three films; a trilogy of family dramas, across generations, in the vein of The Godfather. But true to the form of most trilogies, the third act is the most underwhelming. For the most part though, it's muscular work that has a good grasp on its wide-reaching tale.
If you've seen The Place Beyond The Pines, why not share your comments below? Also, do we think Dane DeHaan will ever have a house party scene that ends well for his character?
I'm Mark the mad prophet, and until next time, don't watch anything I wouldn't watch.