Film Review: The Place Beyond the Pines

daniel cohen is a babe in the woods …

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Plot: The story of a renegade motorcycle driver named Luke (Ryan Gosling) who has a kid with the woman (Eva Mendes) he loves, and turns to bank robbing to provide for them. But when Luke has a run in with a young cop (Bradley Cooper) after a botched robbery, everything changes.

I had no idea this movie existed until I saw the trailer, which totally blew me away. Seriously, it’s one of the greatest trailers I’ve ever seen. But even then, I said to myself, ‘I’m sure this will be good…but not that good.’ And after watching The Place Beyond the Pines, the latest from director Derek Cianfrance (Blue Valentine), it turns out I was correct in my assumption … the movie exceeded the trailer. Let me just say this: If The Place Beyond the Pines doesn’t go down as the best film of the year, then we’re in for a hell of a 2013.

This film sucks you in from the first frame, and doesn’t let go till the credits. And before we go any further, it’s best you know very little about this movie. I won’t dare spoil anything. The film is split up into three sections, but it has one continuous thread throughout, and all three parts are equal in quality. No one act is better than the other. Cianfrance does a marvelous job of weaving this all together. It’s a long movie, but I can’t think of one scene that should have been cut. It’s hard to look away from any of these characters.

The acting is superb. Ryan Gosling … what else is there to say? If you’ve been following my reviews for a while, you know how much I swooned over this guy in 2011′s Drive. While he plays a similar character here in Luke Glanton, Luke is a more realistic character, whereas the Driver was a bit fantastical. Nevertheless, his performance is perfect, and Gosling has now joined the ranks of Leonardo DiCaprio and Christian Bale as one of the elite working actors in Hollywood. It won’t be for this movie, but somewhere in the future, his name is being etched on an Oscar.

But it’s not as if Gosling steals the show. Bradley Cooper continues to impress me in very different roles, as here he plays idealistic cop Avery Cross. While there aren’t a lot of big acting moments for his character, his role is extremely crucial. And there are times when Cooper has to show unbelievable guilt, and then a later scene where he really breaks down … Cooper nails it.

But come on…we all know Gosling and Cooper are going to bring it. What shocked me were the supporting roles. Eva Mendes … are you kidding me?! This is the best thing she’ll ever do. And she’s great, playing Romina, the mother of Luke’s child. The burden that is placed on her, especially later on in the film is enormous, and Mendes couldn’t have done it better.

Who surprised me even more though was Ray Liotta. I’m sorry, I’ve never been a Liotta fan. The reason I can’t completely love Goodfellas is because I hate his performance so damn much. But in The Place Beyond the Pines, he gives maybe his best performance as a shady cop. It’s a small role, but he’s legitimately scary and uncomfortable in a lot of his scenes. My hats off to you, Ray, good job. There’s also great little bits from Ben Mendelsohn, Bruce Greenwood, Rose Byrne, and Dane DeHaan (Chronicle), who is going to have a flourishing career in the next few years … just a solid cast all around.

It’s characters like these that drive films towards greatness, but the other element is having scenes that you can’t stop thinking about even days later, and they come in bunches in this film. Right after Luke robs his first bank, his reaction beautifully illustrates the adrenaline rush he feels. There are also scenes that are absolutely heartbreaking. There’s a particular photograph they use throughout the movie that at one point made me squirm in my seat it’s that powerful. There’s also a moment where Luke has to call Romina that is gut-wrenching as all hell. I don’t want to give any more examples, you should see for yourself. But this whole movie basically feels like one big powerful moment.

But with all movies, it’s certainly not flawless. The pace is nearly perfect, but the beginning moves a little too fast. Luke decides to become a bank robber pretty damn quickly. And speaking of Luke, all the motorcycle stuff is filmed pretty well, but there were some weird choices here and there that seemed a bit pretentious.

There are also a few crooked cops who come into play in the middle of the film, and they were a little much in their crookedness. Seriously, they could have passed for super villains. And as much as I loved all the characters, there’s one who’s unbelievably annoying towards the end of the film, and I know this was the point, but the annoyance level was a little over the top.

But overall, these are minor quibbles. The Place Beyond the Pines is riveting, heartbreaking, tense, quiet, and one of the rare movies that earns it’s lengthy 140 minute run-time. The dialogue is also efficient, in that it’s succinct, but still powerful. It doesn’t need to ramble. The score is also fantastic, although I wish there was more of it. This is one of those films that will stick with you long after you leave the theater. It’s a near masterpiece.

Rating: 9 out of 10 (OMG)

Daniel Cohen is the hard-boiled Film Editor for the Pop Break. Besides reviews, Daniel writes box office predictions, Gotham reviews and Oscar coverage. He can also be found on the Breakcast. If Daniel was sprayed by Scarecrow's fear toxin, it would be watching Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen on a non-stop loop.

1 COMMENT

  1. good review – i would only emphasize more that the structure of the film is what makes it really unique.

    also, you didn’t mention ryan gosling’s kid as a mentionable actor

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