When speaking about the acting career of Ryan Gosling, it’s almost impossible not to bring up Blue Valentine. The film, starring Gosling and Michelle Williams, follows the story of a couple, shifting back and forth in time between their courtship and the dissolution of their marriage years later. What’s so fantastic about this film, other than the brilliant performances, is writer and director Derek Cianfrance. Produced on a micro-budget, Cianfrance found a way to convey heart-wrenching emotion through nothing more than dialogue and its representation through his characters. The film mixes together such carefree, loving moments (the ukulele scene gets me every time) with heart wrenching, tear jerking ones so brilliantly that the film sends its audience’s emotions on a roller coaster, much like the marriage being portrayed on screen. When I found out that Cianfrance would be teaming up with Gosling again, this time for the moody crime drama The Place Beyond The Pines, I was pretty excited. After psyching myself out over the trailer that lead to months of anticipation, I can safely and excitingly say that The Place Beyond the Pines is a cinematic masterpiece that transcends reality and emotion.
The Place Beyond the Pines stars Ryan Gosling as Luke Glanton, a motorcycle stuntman who has recently found out he has a son, Jason. As Glanton begins to rob banks in order to support Jason and his mother, Romina, played by Eva Mendes, he is placed on a crash course with ambitious police officer Avery Cross (recent Oscar-nominee Bradley Cooper), who is looking to quickly move up the ranks in a police department riddled with corruption. The film spans fifteen years as the decisions of the past greatly effect the now, and the only solace is the place beyond the pines.
Thanks to its star-studded cast, which also includes Ray Liotta and up-and-comer Dane DeHaan, Pines is easily the best performance piece of the year so far and one of the strongest in quite some time. Although Gosling was great in Drive and Blue Valentine, he is absolutely electrifying in this role. The heartfelt pain he brings to this character, mixed with a subtle darker side, really plays with the audience’s emotions; there are moments where you can tell all he wants is to be a better father than his own dad was, but also moments where you have to struggle to be on board with his decisions and actions, making him a very complex and brilliantly paradoxical character. Cooper delivers a just as good, if not better performance than his character in Silver Linings Playbook. His ability to portray a cop who’s trying to clean up his city all while hiding the immorality and sins he’s committed inside of him brings a complexity to his character that is emotionally overwhelming, from him and the audience alike. All of the other supporting cast (Mendes, Liotta, DeHaan, etc.) commit fully to their roles and give fantastic performances as well, though nothing stands up to the powerhouses of Gosling and Cooper.
And yet, what really makes this movie shine is the man behind the camera, writer/director Derek Cianfrance. The unique style and truth he brings to his films is unparalleled. What would be a normal story about legacy and the decisions one makes having a ripple effect on people way after him/her becomes so much more in Cianfrance’s hands. Instead, he chooses to write such personal stories that outline his hopes and fears directly on the screen, and that personal weightiness comes across brilliantly in the overwhelming emotion and characters that he develops during the film. Nothing Cianfrance puts in a film is there just to fill time. Even the creative choice to have the opening credit sequence be a continuous shot of Gosling’s character as he walks through a carnival to his stunt motorcycle gig has gravitas meaning: it’s there to show the plainness of this man’s life and to outline some of his past faults. Cianfrance’s writing is slick, impactful, and flows so well that every character has his or her moment to truly shine and emotionally captivate the audience.
Overall, The Place Beyond the Pines is the perfect example of a film that is just done right. From the acting to the editing, everything is handled with such control and with such care that it is more than easy to see the passion everyone had for the project. Cianfrance’s writing and visual style grabs your heart right in the beginning and never lets go, bringing you along for every twist and turn on this bumpy ride, and it’s unbelievably impactful. This is one of the most emotionally riveting and relatable films of the year and I encourage everyone to see it; you won’t be disappointed.
Article by Nick Franco