The Place Beyond the Pines tells the two narratives of a father (Ryan Gosling) trying to re-enter his infant son’s life by proving he can earn enough money to support him and a young rookie cop (Bradley Cooper) who makes a decision that alters the direction of his life. The film later shows how these decisions carry on through the next generation of both their sons.
This film is by far one of my favorite films of all time. It is almost three hours long, and for a film to carry your attention for that long without ever losing its pacing or its hold on you as a viewer is incredible in and of itself. The cast is fantastic, and there are plenty gratuitous shots of Ryan Gosling’s face looking stoically off-camera. Gosling plays the loveable criminal, and as he progresses as a character you truly understand his motivations and care for him even as he continually makes mistakes. The rookie cop, Cooper, is a sympathetic figure, but you slowly lose respect for him throughout the film as he ascends off of another family’s tragedy. Still, even as he tries to make it right, his underlying motives never cease to be self-centered. This is reflected in the two sons, the cop’s son is an annoying, spoiled brat that brings down Gosling’s son, played by the dramatically fantastic newcomer Dane DeHaan. The entire central story plays on themes of economic inequality, familial legacy, corruption, and the power that one decision can have on other people.
The film stylistically is truly beautiful. The director plays with light and color so well, that from just the opening scene of Gosling walking through the carnival you know this thing is going to continually look beautiful. The action scenes, especially anytime Gosling gets on a motorcycle, look phenomenal and are paced incredibly well, creating such natural tension.
Still the greatest part of this movie is the amount of character development. There are a lot of different characters, and none of them feel like simple plot accessories or tacked on story lines, but real people who all have fleshed out motivations and desires central to their story. The corrupt cops are a little over the top at times, but they feel so evil that they present a foil to Cooper’s character and influence his future decisions. Cooper starts out as a tragic figure who made the wrong choice, but expertly morphs into the very thing he was trying to weed out of the force. Gosling is a troubled father who just wants to do right by his family, regardless if they want him as part of the family or not. And although he makes the wrong choices and goes about his final goal the wrong way, he is ultimately a decent person who is truly trying to help his son. His son’s mother is Gosling’s current wife, Eva Mendes, and she plays a fantastic role as a mother who is trying her best to do the right thing for her family, even if it means choosing a more stable and financially secure partner rather than riding off into the sunset with Gosling. Their chemistry is unmistakable, and they work well together onscreen even if their onscreen relationship is dysfunctional at its core.
The two sons are also interesting, as DeHaan’s Jason searches for the real meaning of fatherhood as he searches out his biological father’s story while still loving his stepfather. His ultimate choice reflects how he answers that central question. His relationship with Cooper’s son dramatically escalates to violence and a final emotional choice.
The film introduces you to two families, especially the two fathers, and by the end you see how both affect and influence each other by one single decision that carries on to their sons. You understand these characters and they feel truly real. That is the best part about this film. It feels real. It feels like you have an opportunity to do a case study on two families and you’re simply watching their lives play out and intersect with each other. It is a captivating film that looks incredible cinematically with a brilliant cast to bring it life. This is a film you simply have to see. So set aside a three hour chunk of your time and give it a view.
Amy’s Recommendation: 10/10