Ryan Gosling, an actor of great potential and idol worship who never quite lands the role for the ages, is up his charismatic slacker tricks again with this impressive noir meets twisted family values film. In The Place Beyond the Pines we detect elements of last year’s Drive — here, Gosling is again a criminal by necessity and a master of the driving game, but on two wheels instead of four — and the fatalistic romantic anguish of Blue Valentine, also from this film’s gifted director/co-writer, Derek Cianfrance.
A three-part saga, moving from character to character and one generation to the next, Pines tells a tale of robbery gone wild, bloodshed from unexpected places, police corruption and careerist ambition, and adolescents headed down possibly dark roads, among other real world matters. But what distinguishes the film is its underscoring feeling and emotional weight.
Cianfrance manages to work a delicate and vulnerable balance between the grit, adrenaline, and tangled tenderness of a story about fathers and sons. In a way, that rare dramatic blend is reminiscent of Todd Field’s excellent In the Bedroom, in which family matters and revenge issues play into the dramatic/evil equation in the narrative.
Gosling commands the screen with his usual soft-spoken, simmering tough guy charm, but other actors surprise us, too. Eva Mendes, more than just a pretty face and femme fatale here, puts in a powerful performance as an unwitting trigger to the shift in our anti-hero’s life and fate, and Bradley Cooper is better and cooler than he was in the overrated Silver Linings Playbook. Ray Liotta, the man from the most balletic death scene of last year, in Killing Them Softly — does up one of his classic badass roles, and hints at the symbolic, unseen evil “beyond the pines.” A newcomer worth watching is young Dane DeHaan, who appears later in the film, but captures our attention with a scruffy volatility reminiscent of young Leo DiCaprio.
Artful filmic elements contribute to the lingering power of the whole, from cinematographer Sean Bobbit’s skillful blend of jittery excitement during the “drive” moments to slower scenic splendors elsewhere. There’s also the highly effective soundtrack by Mike Patton, which makes poetic use of Arvo Pärt’s haunting Fratres and a fitting dash of melancholic Bon Iver to close. Thankfully, The Place Beyond the Pines is a cut or three above the usual crime-and-punishment nastiness, a case of noir-with-heart, with circularity and parallel plot lines keeping us deeply attuned.