The Place Beyond the Pines, the title a reference to the setting in Schenectady, New York, begins with Luke Glanton (Ryan Gosling) walking across the circus and into a tent, where he joins two other men on motorcycles inside a metal ball. The three speed up and continue to ride around and around the cage at high speeds, defying the laws of gravity in a collision of the senses that mesmerizes. Then we meet Romina (Eva Mendes), who after a brief fling with Luke a year before now has his baby, but lives with a new man and is trying to get her life on track by going back to school. Luke quits the circus to be around his son more, and begins working at a small auto shop with a mechanic named Robin to get some cash for his boy. Robin leads him towards a life of crime, helping Luke rob banks to get cash for his son.
Avery is smart and well principled, at least at first, but as he encounters more and more corruption within the Schenectady police force he slowly loses his resilience. Ray Liotta makes an appearance here as an older officer who provides most of the corrupt tension of this chapter, including a finger-biting dinner scene which on its surface seems far more casual than we know it really is. The film also contains a third act set fifteen years after the events at the beginning of the film, where Luke and Avery’s sons meet, once more crashing these two families into one another.
Cianfrance directs with audacity and a display of incredible talent. He evokes some of the greatest performances of their careers from all of his stars, and he manages their respective characters with skill. The progression of the story through all three acts has been written near flawlessly, and while the film looses some steam towards the second half, it still more than justifies its entire 140-minute runtime. Killing off your lead actor less than halfway through the film is a bold move, especially when he’s played by someone as likeable and gifted as Gosling, yet Cianfrance transitions the focus elegantly and doesn’t lose us in the first act, instead he entices us to become even more deeply involved in these characters lives.
Complementing Cianfrance’s direction and the entire cast’s outstanding acting are both a tremendous musical score and fantastic cinematography. The original score is filled with mood-setting piano for the drama and guitar licks for the chase scenes. Sean Bobbitt, cinematographer of Steve McQueen’s movies such as Shame or Hunger, films The Place Beyond the Pines with a wonderful attention to the scenes themselves. Filming on 35mm, Bobbitt and Cianfrance have composed a beautiful film with tension in both the action and dialogue, often complimented by shots of beauty. It’s a unique contrast, and this film certainly packs more than most – the scenes about corruption alone could lend themselves to a whole separate film – but in The Place Beyond the Pines everything has come together to create this terrific epic of corruption, family, and consequences.