Collaborating once more with Blue Valentine director Derek Gianfrance, Ryan Golsling swaps the tooth pick and scorpion jacket of Winding Refn’s Drive for a cut-down Metallica sweat, bleach blond hair and a cigarette; almost caricaturist devices that on anyone else, may well look outrageous.
On Gosling though not so, personifying cool once more and creating what may well be another contemporary movie icon; his speed demon has a name this time, Luke.
While short of being as enigmatic, Luke’s introduction comes swiftly and loudly with Gianfrance’s continuous tracking shot of the tattooed Gosling, a carnival cage of death rider; drifting, a rebel without a cause until this stop on the road show, a year since previous, places a baby boy in his arms.
The realisation of a chance to change or perhaps fear, superbly displayed by Gosling in a heart wrenching scene as he handles his son for the first time reveals more of the nomadic Luke, instantly compelled to prove capable as a father to Eva Mendes’ mum, Romina.
When Mendes’ new and more stable flame Kofi (Mahershala Ali) provides all she needs for baby Jason, Luke takes to robbing banks to utilise his “skill set”.
Whereas Luke’s turn to the dark side seems hurried, and indeed excessive to believe it’s the only way to earn, the increasingly brilliant Ben Mendolsohn’s criminal veteran Robin is introduced, giving the mere suggestion of law-breaking to Luke, an opportunity the free spirit grasps after slight deliberation.
Gosling’s and Mendelsohn’s connection is supreme, both essentially loners, their shared scenes are few but authentic. Menelsohn’s isolation is heart-breaking but romantically idyllic; given little he is exceptional once more after recent roles in Killing Them Softly and The Dark Knight Rises.
The adrenaline felt by Gianfrance’s franticly cut getaways are electric, and the addiction to the rush felt by Luke is palpable. His increasingly ambitious bank raids set a course to encounter Bradley Cooper’s rookie cop, Avery.
Coupled with Gianfrance’s screenplay that works most successfully as chaptered episodes and Gosling’s impeccable performance the breath-taking central hinge point serves to make Luke the ubiquitous heart of The Place Beyond the Pines and elevates it beyond the customary crime, family tale.
It’s a courageous structure as Bradley Cooper’s entrance ushers in a new direction, a fellow father fraught with almost paralleling shortcomings.
Avery’s struggle though is different, oppositely rejecting his son and struggling with corruption in his precinct, centrally perpetrated by the intimidating Ray Liotta. A common commentary that criminality exists in all classes no matter the motivation, in turn glorifying and relatively justifying Luke’s violent criminality.
It seems the further Cooper moves from ‘The Wolf pack’, the more credible an actor he becomes, following swiftly on from Oscar recognition in Silver Linings; he gives a sincere, evolving performance that in some ways represents the career progress of both the man and the protagonist, as Avery climbs the political ladder, indebted to past glories and slowly deteriorating morals.
Chaptering the time spanning generational story makes The Place Beyond the Pines almost a masterpiece, epic in its ambition, yes, but unwieldy and overlong while intimately focused on some arcs and hurriedly inattentive to others; pacing becomes inconsistent when in transition between chapters and the passage of time.
The final episode of the sons and the fallout from the sins of the fathers serve to confirm the notion that parents mess up their children. Wayward teens AJ (Emory Cohen) and Jason (Dane DeHaan) bring full circle the misdemeanours of the past in a play that creates the most compelling and ambitious themes of legacy and mythology. Their meeting may be hurried and often handled predictably to serve the purposes of closure, but both are first-rate beyond their years and the wider seen DeHaan (Lawless, Chronicle) is a truly original star in the making.
Though Gosling is permanently stellar once more, with a performance that may not exceed Drive, but at least rival it. His Dean like rebel made the more Iconic and mythical by his omnipresence; his free spirited legacy given to Jason in a poignant close.
With later attention given to telling the story of fathers and sons, it’s somewhat inevitable that the mothers’ roles are minimised after the earlier judicious focus on Mendes’ struggle with both parenthood and hesitant love of Luke. Both are exceptional, particularly Mendes, who is given much more than Rose Byrne as Coopers’ over caring wife; even though affected, they’re played as strong women rather than victims of fatherly deficiencies.
One such father not so lacking is step dad Kofi, a hopeful light that truly decent men exist and not all fathers fail, even when not their own blood.
Mike Patton’s score delivers, with choral music and a haunting yet blissful pianism, a central theme elevated above the pines in conjunction with Gianfrance’s wide aerial shots that’s one of recent cinema’s most memorable musical pieces.
Gianfrance’s overall direction is supreme even if the partial shortcomings of his collaborated script have a nominal effect on a rapidly growing reputation; he is now surely one of the best directors of his generation, when following on from Blue Valentine with such audacity.
The Place Beyond the Pines covers much; the fallibility of decent people trying to do the best for their kids, the extreme lengths they go to and the consequences of desperate but irrational actions. A completely unforgettable near masterpiece, that falls short only when trying to match its ambition.
An early candidate for Awards? Let’s hope The Place Beyond the Pines doesn’t get forgotten by Oscar.