This weeks Netflix Pick is one close to home (for me anyway). I mean that literally, The Place Beyond the Pines was shot on location in Schenectady New York, about ten minutes from where I live. Not only was it cool to see a movie shot in the quiet bits of Central New York I live in, I had a friend who actually worked on the movie. He even got to have a discussion with Gosling about why Drive just wasn’t good. My wife had an encounter with Gosling as well, when she almost ran him down with her car. Excitement!
The Place Beyond the Pines plays out in several stories with themes, decisions, characters, and themes following through. In order to support his girlfriend, Romina (Eva Mendes), and new baby a motorcycle stuntman, Luke (Ryan Gosling), decides to use his skills on a bike to rob banks.
Luke’s success gets the attention of a young Police Officer on the rise, Avery (Bradley Cooper). Despite working in a precinct filled with corruption of Officers who have lost their way Avery is determined to bring Luke in.
The two men clash and the effects of both of their decisions echo through the next fifteen years as their young children reach high school age.
The way the plot shifts and changes focus is executed very well. Luke as the protagonist, followed by Avery, and then a cut forward in time to the lives of their children living with the decisions their respective parents have made. The juggling of so many leads and an ever evolving storyline never feels forced. The content never feels like it’s all crammed in and forced. The story unfolds with determination at a slow and steady pace. The film is completely without glitz and glamour.
That isn’t to say that the movie is a downer either. Of course it isn’t often joyfilled but the realism displayed on the screen doesn’t hold the movie into a forced single emotion. Some of the realism was even harder hitting by the familiar location. You may not be familiar with Schenectady New York specifically but everyone has a working class neighborhood in their area that time seems to have forgotten about. These neighborhoods are stuck at a certain point in time and slowly deteriorate. Location was so crucial in this movie because the characters are largely victims of circumstance.
Writer/Director Derek Cianfrance is no stranger to well crafted gritty downers. His previous feature film, Blue Valentine (also starring Ryan Gosling) captured all too perfectly the deterioration of a young couple’s relationship. Don’t let that stop you from watching Pines. When the credits roll on The Place Beyond the Pines you won’t be questioning why you’ve spent two hours depressing yourself. You will be left with the overwhelming feeling you’ve just looked in on the lives of several people.
Major movie stars like Ryan Gosling, Bradley Cooper, and Eva Mendes are instantly recognizable. They are even a draw for movie-goers to show up to a movie they may not have heard about or watched. The risky structure of Pines, and the fact that it pays off, shows the strength of the cast. Furthermore when such iconic actors disappear into a role and you feel like you are watching Luke, not Gosling, something magical happens, even when a movie is intentionally drab and gritty.
The Place Beyond the Pines is one movie that when the credits role you shouldn’t be in a hurry to rush to the bathroom or hit ‘next’ in your queue. Take a minute. Think it over. Let it absorb. It isn’t complicated to understand, it is far from convoluted. It is a heavy high-wire act where the concept is as enthralling as the performances that construct it.