Cinema review: The Place Beyond the Pines

By David Keane

The Place Beyond the Pines is now showing at Manchester’s Cornerhouse – get your tickets here.

When cinema this moody and contemplative clocks in at 140 minutes, you could be forgiven for worrying that The Place Beyond the Pines is going to be a gruelling, drawn-out affair. You would be mistaken, however.

Derek Cianfrance’s sprawling tale of fathers and sons is neatly arranged in three segments making it play out like a trilogy of painfully-linked films, painting a tragic expression of an archetypal town in New York, and America as a whole – Schenectady.

What results is a complex but gripping tale of fatherhood and responsibility.

It begins with Luke Glanton (Ryan Gosling) – a moody, lonesome but bold travelling stunt bike rider who finds out he has a son with a girl (Eva Mendes) from Schenectady , just one of the towns he passes through.

Despite, or perhaps because of, his own troubled background, the tattooed Luke quits the travelling circuit and tries to provide for his new ‘family’ in the only way he can think how – robbing banks.

His new pastime inevitably ends up with him crossing paths with the law, and it is when he meets rookie cop Avery Cross (Bradley Cooper) that the film shifts into its second story segment; a tale of a young police officer struggling to reconcile praise for his brave actions with his own guilt over what really happened.

The film’s third segment fast-forwards fifteen years to when both men’s young sons are teenagers in their last years at high school but find their families’ paths must fatefully cross once again.

With its bold depictions of a father’s decisions shaping a son’s future and generations of families continually crossing paths with haunting echoes to the past, The Place Beyond the Pines plays out like a modern day East of Eden.

Ryan Gosling demands attention in every shot and the camera celebrates his ability to hold the audience’s heart in hand in every brooding, lingering look – just as he did in Drive. But what else have we come to expect?

More surprisingly, Bradley Cooper then manages to give him a run for his money in what is his most captivating performance to date. (Or is that his only captivating performance to date…? But MM are yet to review Silver Linings Playbook…)

The film boasts a near-perfect supporting cast, including Ray Liotta as a fearsome corrupt cop and Eva Mendes as the sobbing waitress caught up in it all.

It also features one of the most beautifully shot and poignant moments in recent cinema when Luke and his friend celebrate the success of their first bank robbery by dancing to Springsteen’s Dancing in the Dark along with their faithful pooch.

It sounds cheesy – but you can rest assured it ain’t.

The Place Beyond the Pines is a touching American fable with much of the courageous but flawed characters and tragedy of the human condition of Steinbeck’s aforementioned masterpiece, yet might well leave you wondering what ‘the place beyond the pines’ really is – aside from an centuries-old Mohawk name for Schenectady itself. It certainly leaves you thinking.

Image courtesy of Pine Productions / Sidney Kimmel Entertainment / Focus Features via YouTube, with thanks.

The Place Beyond the Pines is now showing at Manchester’s Cornerhouse – get your tickets here.

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