One time I was asked why there were times that I would like a movie with such a simple story and yet I would enjoy it more than a movie that tries to be a little more surprising. I guess it is because simple stories can be easier to relate to since they can bring forth an area that reflects true life. The way a story is told also has a lot to do with a movie’s enjoyment. Director Derek Cianfrance’s “Blue Valentine” was an expression of pure simplicity as it told the story of a couple whose marriage is slowly breaking apart. His latest 2013 film “The Place Beyond the Pines” is still simple at its core, and yet the way it executes its story through multiple lead characters with a father-son theme makes a little more complex than “Blue Valentine”. Director Derek Cianfrance has picked a winning formula once again with this emotional crime drama.
A motorcycle stunt rider named Luke (Ryan Gosling) suddenly has a change in his heart when he finds out that he has a child with woman named Romina (Eva Mendes) that he had a ‘fling’ with. He quits the carnival so that he could stay close to his son, but this is also where he needs to find a way to make more money to support his kid. Luke meets Robin (Ben Mendelsohn) who works on cars and he ends up crashing at the place behind his shop. But Luke’s need for more money leads the two to hatch up a scheme to do several bank robberies; since Luke feels that he needs to earn his right as a father. Things go smoothly until Luke becomes set in a collision course with a cop named Avery Cross (Bradley Cooper), an ambitious rookie cop who also has to deal with corruption within his precinct.
The film’s screenplay has three different stories in them and they are told in a linear style that can be divided into three parts or acts. Each act follows a different set of characters who are very different, and yet their situations end up being quite similar and yet different. The three stories do not intertwine, and as soon as one story ends, another begins as an expression of a generation. Each character’s story is told in manner that it comes home to many different areas and it allows the characters to breathe and flow naturally into the screenplay. All three acts deal with the father-son relationship and they are all about how a father wants to do good by their son, how a son wants to emulate their father, and just how fathers can learn from their own sons.
First the story of Luke is told; he is the father who wants to do good by his son with Romina. He would do anything to earn his right as the child’s father and to have a family. The second is about the cop, Avery who is the son who learned a lot from his father; his father being a retired judge and so Avery naturally follows the same path but a little different and this is about enforcing the law. Avery also wants to overcome the corruption in his unit, and so he uses what he knows to get ahead. The third act continues on as a form of a legacy as the story of Luke’s son Jason (Dane DeHaan) and Avery’s son, AJ (Emory Cohen) come full circle. It is some sort of ‘passing the torch’ as the characters become involved in similar and yet different moral situations that can test who they are and what they are made of.
The direction and the writing (co-written by Cianfrance) structured the plot in a way that the more the viewer spent time with the characters, the more they become invested. They are completely different people with very different backgrounds and yet, the moral dilemmas they face somehow come forth as something about choosing between light and darkness, or how they tend to work around such moral challenges in a gray area. None of the characters were either good or evil, they are just ordinary folk who appear to be faced in making either a good or bad decision. Their nature, their simplicity and their feeling of authenticity could easily draw in the film’s viewer, as the stories felt like a part of real life. One part you can be charmed by them, the viewer could root for them and then become disappointed with them. The direction handles the characters with such a realistic tone that is further advanced by its dialogue. The characters could easily immerse its audience because of their terrific characterizations as intrigue, twists and turns will doubtless lock them into amazement.
Luke and Avery’s stories were excellent and acted by Gosling and Cooper, their character’s stories were just short of brilliant. Gosling wears his shirts inside out most of the time, and one could wonder why, but it serves to give him that sense of personality that made Luke feel authentic as someone who is charming, care-free and yet wants to be someone different. Cooper was just as good as Gosling. While Luke was unkempt, Avery was what you may call ‘made for success’. He is cleaned cut, a good dresser and he tries to stay within an area that he is comfortable with. While the performances by DeHaan and Cohen were good for their story, I thought their story wasn’t as intriguing or as interesting as their fathers’ tale. I know, Jason is the meeker son while AJ is the reckless one, it was almost as if it was a reversal of fortune as to how they choose their own path. It was a good story, but it was also the area where the film started to lose some momentum, as their stories just became a little predictable. The supporting cast led by Mendes, Ray Liotta, Mendelsohn, Mahershala Ali and Harris Yulin were also great in furthering the script.
However, the direction handled the transition from each story to the other quite well. The cinematography somehow resembles what he had done with his previous work, and this movie has a different tempo altogether. I know this film was darker and grittier than “Blue Valentine”, but by shooting the scenes with a grainy atmosphere and the occasional shaky camera style, he manages to shoot the scenes with a feeling of authenticity and realism. Cianfrance knew how to shoot the chases with a delicate hand, seen from the windshield of a police car it makes the chase simple and yet filled with tension. Cianfrance knew how to shoot the scenes carefully, as he handles them to convey the mood and tone of each scene.
“The Place Beyond the Pines” may have a simple story, but the richness in depth of its characters gave it a lot of narrative strength that I was hooked for its entirety. The third act may not be as great as the first two acts, not to say that it was bad, but it sure could’ve been a lot better. The third act just did not have the same amount of power as the first two. Be that as it may, the writing and the direction made several excellent decisions in telling its story, as chronologically telling it made it much more effective. This is a fine piece of cinema that every movie fan shouldn’t miss. Highly Recommended. [4 ½ Out of 5 Stars]
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