The Place Beyond the Pines is a sprawling crime epic about family, fatherhood, fate and justice. Director, Derek Cianfrance, landed excellent co-lead performances from Michelle Williams and Ryan Gosling in Blue Valentine and this echoes in the haunting The Place Beyond the Pines. While not as melancholic and more ambitious, this generational crime thriller has the earmarks of an American classic.

At the centre of the The Place Beyond the Pines is the photograph of a young family, as a motorcycle stunt biker (Gosling), trying to rekindle a relationship with his 1-year-old son and ex-girlfriend, collides with an ambitious and determined rookie cop (Cooper) on a self-made mission.

Ryan Gosling and Bradley Cooper headline a solid cast. Gosling’s Luke is a blend of his suave street smarts in Drive and his working class swagger in Blue Valentine. The tattooed metal head stunt biker is a real piece of work, one whose graduation into fatherhood inspires him to be the dad he never had. On the other side of the spectrum is Bradley Cooper’s Avery, a by-the-book copper who’s determined to make his way up the ranks of the legal system without treading on his father’s coattails.

They’re supported by Eva Mendes, Rose Byrne, Ray Liotta and Ben Mendelsohn. The casting of Mendes echoes her role opposite Nicolas Cage in Ghost Rider, and she’s convincing as the woman struggling to make a head versus heart decision. Rose Byrne’s relatively short yet sharp appearance helps frame Avery’s fragile family history. Then, Ray Liotta is perfectly cast as a jilted cop, while Ben Mendolsohn delivers a Gary Oldman calibre performance as an outside catalyst.

Spling MoviesThe film attempts a story cross fade that does feel somewhat disjointed, but this bold interruption is refreshing and serves as an incisive set up, reboot and second chapter. The Place Beyond the Pines does have a few shake ups, but these moments all seem to know their place in the gradual coming together of this 15 year crime saga.

Derek Cianfrance’s bold film has tremendous range, casting light on intimate eye-to-eye family moments and touching on much broader humanistic themes from a bird’s eye view. This is enhanced by the cinematography, by observing an unbiased and naturalistic beauty and swathing the film in sullen majesty. By reaching for the over-arching vision, Cianfrance manages to capture rich, powerful moments that make the somewhat disjointed journey all the more worthwhile.

The Place Beyond the Pines is a broad film, one that manages to reinvent itself and deftly shift its weight without flinching. The nearly two-and-a-half hour run time is warranted and gives the film an epic quality, allowing the generational story the time and space to seep into our minds. We’re invested, fascinated and moved by the co-lead performances that have a similar weight and intensity to American History X. While it may not appeal to everyone, it’s haunting splendor will linger on.

The bottom line: Immense

Stephen ‘Spling’ Aspeling
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