And here it is. I’m just going to put it out there and say the following: I think I have just found my first candidate I would like to see at the next year’s Academy Awards. Now that I managed to get this out of the way I think I can continue with mu usual.
A couple of months ago I happened to be trawling the internet in search for anything interesting and I stumbled upon a trailer to a new movie with Ryan Gosling in it. I didn’t know anything past what I saw in the trailer, and even when I shopped around for information nothing really changed in that regard. It looked to simply be “Drive” on a bike. And only because I really enjoyed every single movie with Ryan Gosling (and also because “Blue Valentine” – Derek Cianfrance’s previous piece – is the only film that actually managed to make me cry) I decided to give it a try. Ok, I would be a liar, if I left it at that. Very often the fact a film receives mixed reviews determines me to see it even more, because terrible movies are simply incapable of stirring anything up, and right after its release, this film has been received as either truly brilliant, or utterly terrible, with little in between.
“The Place Beyond The Pines” feels a lot like something Alejandro González Iñárritu would make. We are presented here with three tales tightly sewed together by the characters, their actions and the ramifications of their choices. First, we meet Luke (Ryan Gosling) – a tattooed-beyond-belief social outcast who happens to be a stunt biker in a travelling amusement park. After one of his shows, he stumbles across an old acquaintance – Romina (Eva Mendes), they spend some time together and the next day, just when he’s about to say good-bye once more, Luke meets a person who would turn his life upside down; he finds out his brief relationship with Romina has borne fruit – a boy called Jason. Even though Luke stands a little chance of building a family with Romina, as she is already in a committed relationship with someone else, Luke decides to settle down in the town, get a job and do the right thing – be a father to his son.
Quite obviously and to Luke’s chagrin, a little town in the middle of nowhere doesn’t have a lot to offer to someone like Luke. Sure, he knows his way around the car shop and naturally he can ride his bike like a lightning, yet the money he earns working as a mechanic doesn’t even begin to cover the needs of his one-year-old. Therefore in order to keep his promise, Luke is forced to take an unorthodox step in his life and steer away from the righteous ways towards the life of a bank robber.
The second tale in the film focuses on Avery (Bradley Cooper) – a cop who lives in the same town. But he’s no regular police officer; Avery is a man with a mission. Even though he’s a certified lawyer, he willfully chose the life of a street cop, because – as he thinks – judges and lawyers only talk about the law, whereas it’s the men in blue uniforms who make the actual difference. And this is what he has always wanted – to make a difference; against all odds and in defiance to his father. Only after he meets Luke, Avery’s eyes begin to slowly open to the rotten morality that’s hiding behind the shield he wears so proudly. Knowing he needs to care for his toddler son, he is faced with a choice, from which there would be no going back, as he will have to truly live by the values he holds dear and risk everything he’s got, or surrender to the current and become what he hates.
The third and final act of “The Place Beyond The Pines” I shall leave out, because the way how these two first acts play out and melt the film together has a profound effect on its final story and revealing too much could potentially diminish the impact of the film. Let me say only this: the first two tales set the pieces on the board for the third act to play out and how it plays out is a brutal reflection on everything that has happened to the characters before.
“The Place Beyond The Pines” was simply a delight to watch. Its gripping story-telling and, most importantly, the phenomenal characters built through powerhouse performances have bolted me into my seat. As I said before, it’s one of those films that will poke you in ways you find most uncomfortable, only for you to stop and have a closer look at the characters and maybe see your own choices and shortcomings for a minute. The film’s three acts all share the same message, phrased differently and taken at different angles, but still the same at its core: it’s not what you think of yourself is the most important in your life, but what you leave behind. It’s the curse of repeating our fathers’ mistakes and the damage we cause to our sons through the decisions we make; that is the melody found between the violins and trumpets of emotional turmoil the characters suffer on the screen.
Perhaps it is my own personal relationship I managed to develop with them, that I could hold accountable for the energy this film stores; as an expecting father I could somehow empathize with the characters, so that the stories they told were all the more powerful in my eyes. After all, who among us has never feared he’d become his own father, even despite greatest efforts… Derek Cianfrance in his film once again prompts us to rethink our choices before we make them, because it’s not us, who would receive the bulk of their repercussions – it’s the ones we’ll leave behind. The titular place beyond the pines is supposed to remind us of that, and it is not a physicality of the place that is crucial here – it’s the metaphorical common denominator of all three tales; it’s the crossroads at which the tragedies of human life are materialized.
In summary, “The Place Beyond The Pines” has become the best film I saw this year so far, and thus the bar is set pretty high. Its powerful storytelling, tremendous acting and subtle photography all work in unison to make it feel unforgettable and I can only look forward to watch it again.
And no – it was not “Drive” on a bike…