Recommendation: One of the best movies I’ve seen in the last five years. Mesmerizing characters given great, humane treatment and a plot that is constantly evolving. And let’s be real, it has Eva Mendes, Bradley Cooper, and Ryan Gosling, you’ll enjoy just watching these pretty faces.
Screw it, right? Yeah, this is a blog about books, but who cares. A movie is like a slightly-more-passive moving book anyways. Or something. Whatever, shut up. I’ll do whatever I feel like.
So, The Place Beyond The Pines. This movie initially follows Luke Glanton (Ryan Gosling) who makes a living as a motorcycle stunt driver in a travelling carnival. Luke shows up in Schenectady, NY where he reunites with his past lover, Romina (Eva Mendes) and discovers that he has a son. Though Romina is living with another man, Luke decides to stick around and provide for his son. Unable to make enough money, Luke resorts to robbing banks. When he grabs the attention of the Schenectady Police and young, ambitious officer Avery Cross (Bradley Cooper) the two arrive on a collision course that has drastic, fiery consequences for both men and their families.
I really loved watching this film and I can’t wait to see it again. The characters are incredibly vivid and each of them brings something new to the table. If I were to judge just based on the three main characters, I honestly think this would be my favorite movie of all time. It’s rare that any medium (text, film, TV, radio) can shine light on the shadowy corners of the human mind, but Cianfrance does so throughout this story. The only time that Cianfrance goes too far is with Luke’s son, Jason. I won’t give anything away by describing the things that got out of hand since they happened towards the end of the film, so I’ll just say that Cianfrance gets too concerned with justice and familial bonds, and slides his characters a little out of focus.
I will warn that those of you who prefer action movies and have trouble sitting still through long character driven scenes will struggle to survive The Place Beyond The Pines. The first third of this 140 minute movie has some great stunts and some good, high-flying action (including a take-your-breath-away insane chase sequence), but the remaining hour and a half deals largely with the consequences of the initial action, with just two or three blips of serious, intense suspense.
Even with all these amazing characters crashing into and away from each other, the part that intrigued me the most was how Cianfrance decided to tell this story. At its most basic, telling a story usually evokes one of two ideas. Either A. following a character to see how she grows through the events of her life or B. recording an event and seeing how said event effects the people involved, their loved ones, and maybe even the world at large. In some form or another, this is 90% of the stories that you hear. But, The Place Beyond The Pines does something different. Instead of telling a story, it creates an environment. It begins with a single conflict, but constantly evolves from that point, moving in ways that are unexpected but, upon later inspection, seem inevitable. It feels the way I imagine it would feel if you could watch a tree grow in fast motion (because even though the movie is long, it sure as hell isn’t as boring as watching a tree grow in real time). The seeds are planted and the story unfurls, seeking out sunlight wherever it can. Eventually it’s branches start spreading outward, curving through the air and carving out all the possibilities of its reach and, before you know it, the place where the seeds were planted now holds a trunk, thick, strong, and unyielding. Some characters disappear, some stick around. Some fly off and start stories of their own, some stay still and consistent.
If nothing else, Cianfrance should be applauded for his ambition. Instead of slicing out a portion of life, he attempted to create a microcosm of it on film. The extent to which he succeeded is up for interpretation, but just the willingness to try is something to admire.