It’s not often that I watch a movie and feel compelled to write about it (unless I have to)—that is, write beyond the 140 characters allowed by Twitter. But I recently watched Derek Cianfrance’s The Place Beyond the Pines and instantly knew that I had to get the word out. Without knowing much about the film, I knew I wanted to see it (despite a trailer that did not interest me) for two reasons: 1. It’s Derek Cianfrance, and I LOVE Blue Valentine (which topped my annual Top 20 list in 2011), and 2. It stars Ryan Gosling, who, in my opinion, is one of the most talented actors alive today. Now, I watch a lot of movies. A LOT. And it’s hard to come by a truly great film nowadays that can compete with the purity and heart of those from the Golden Age of cinema. So rest assured that I am not half-heartedly slinging around superlatives when I say that The Place Beyond the Pines is one of my all-time favorite movies.
The epic story, which spans two generations and a 140-minute runtime, starts its focus on Luke (Ryan Gosling), a loner motorcycle stunt rider who returns to Schenectady, New York for a show and meets up with his old flame Romina (Eva Mendes), only to learn that despite a quick fling with her a year earlier, he has a son. With a sense of responsibility in mind, Luke is moved to provide for Romina and little Jason, all the while competing with Romina’s new live-in boyfriend (actually, it’s she who lives in his house) and Luke’s empty pockets. Taking a new friend’s advice to heart, Luke turns to robbing banks. After a heist goes wrong, he encounters police officer Avery (Bradley Cooper). Though the encounter is brief, it’s just enough to change the course of both Romina’s and Avery’s lives, and those of their children.
Despite working on opposite sides of the law, Luke and Avery have much in common. They both have newborn sons, and despite the challenges they face, they’re both basically good people. Luke thrusts himself into a life of crime, but he does it to provide for the family he wants for himself. Avery is thrust into a slew of corruption within his police force, but he tries to do what’s right. And due to political interests and “other stuff” (no spoilers here), neither of their sons really has a father to look up to. And that’s where the story picks up 15 years later. The circle that was started by Luke and Avery is completed by their sons (unknowingly). And that’s what makes this film epic.
Cianfrance’s Blue Valentine boasts a nonlinear structure, which I fully appreciate. Pines is linear, but it plays with time in a different way. It’s three distinct movies—set in different times—colliding into one, but they do so in a harmonious way that holds your attention and leaves you in awe. The on-the-surface story is simple, but the characters are complex. The writing by Cianfrance, Ben Coccio, and Darius Marder is tight and sincere. The pacing is spot-on. The performances (all of them) are phenomenal.
This is the perfect movie.