So, without having heard of or seeing anything by (not even Blue Valentine - gasp) Derek Cianfrance, I didn't really know what to expect from Place Beyond the Pines save for a few screenshots of Ryan Gosling on a motorbike and a few recommendations from magazines, websites and such. I hadn't even seen the trailer, so for me this was quite a unique viewing experience as I had no idea what to expect save for the brief synopsis: Luke (Gosling) a motorcycle stunt rider turns to a life of crime in order to provide for his ex (Mendes) and their new-born child Jason. I knew that Bradley Cooper was somehow in the mix too as some kind of rooky police officer, but otherwise it felt like I went in blind.
Honestly, I think I should do this more often as this movie completely took me by surprise in terms of the directions it went with the characters and how interconnected it all was. Overall I enjoyed Place Beyond the Pines, I thought the camera work was great throughout, loved the introductory tracking shot of Gosling making his way to the motorbike cage. There is definitely a lot to admire within this film in terms of great film making; the use of music, the way in which certain locations are used to draw out particular emotions. The forest feels like a place of danger and isolation, whilst the long winding roads on which we see Luke, and later his son Jason riding down radiate a sense of freedom along with a sad sense of self-reflection. Many shots later in the film feel like duplicates of what we have previously seen, lending them an emotional poignancy that resonates long after the film ends.
My main criticism, however would be that it felt like it was split into three chapters. Despite being connected by it's characters, I got a very different vibe from the first act for example, than I did with the third. It definitely felt very unconventional, and I was very impressed by the story particularly in the first two 'sections' of the film as they felt quite fast-paced and I found myself really investing in both Gosling and Cooper's characters. However, the last act felt like a bit of a different film. The emotional core of the first two acts is really pushed to the forefront near the end, though presented through the eyes of two 'new' characters it has a different feel to it that I felt lacked the energy and pace of the first two thirds. Thats not to say I didn't enjoy it, it just felt a little lacking when held up to the rest of what I'd already seen.
I think this is perhaps because the first two-thirds of the film were propelled by tension, not only through the chase scenes ( which were spectacular by the way) but through the obvious friction between certain characters that really gave the first two acts of the film more of an edge than the last. That being said, the ending was by no means disastrous (far from it), I still enjoyed it a whole lot as there was more sentimentality to it in the way it re-treaded running themes of family and crime but from a different angle. What the first act has though, that solidifies my preference is the way in which it breaks conventions in such a way that puts the emotional core in place to begin with. I don't want to say much more about it here because I don't want to spoil it, as it was something that completely took me by surprise. Though I do feel that the 'twist', or rather this subversion of audience expectation in the first act is what manages to hold the last third in place, where it would otherwise feel a little superfluous.
Overall, I felt the ending was tied up neatly, despite lacking the realism and believability of the first and second acts, and the occasional plot hole. Performance wise, I was really impressed by Bradley Cooper in particular. Its so good to see him getting interesting roles like this, I imagine he's being taken a little more seriously since Silver Linings. Ryan Gosling was also good even though his role felt a little bit type-cast. Still, he pulled it off well and he did a great job pulling on my heartstrings even though Bradley Cooper did ultimately end up stealing the show, particularly in a certain forest scene in the last act.
In general as I've already said, I really, really enjoyed Place Beyond The Pines. I don't really know if I quite get the final message it was trying to put across, but it definitely left me with a lot to think about with regards to what a 'hero' actually is. None of the characters in this film are perfect, many dabble in a kind of moral grey area which is what makes them so interesting. Its especially hard to know who to sympathise for when themes of police corruption (sounds familiar...) are brought to light , but then thats a whole other article. I could go on and on about this film because it really does leave you with a lot to think about, but ultimately I just recommend you go see it if you're interested because it truly is a worthwhile watch.