Derek Cianfrance’s A Place Beyond the Pines is a slow-burning, ambitious epic of Shakespearean proportions, split into 3 intertwining acts.
The first of these acts sees us introduced to Luke (Ryan Gosling) a chain-smoking, heavily tattooed stunt biker with a travelling fair, who, having returned to a town he visited with the fair the previous year, is re-introduced to a former lover, Romina (Eva Mendes). It transpires that since they last met, Romina has given birth to Luke’s baby boy, and is now in a loving relationship with another man.
Luke becomes driven to provide for his child, quitting his job as a stunt biker, and falls in with a local mechanic, Robin (played wonderfully by Ben Mendelsohn), who offers him work as his assistant. Robin, it is disclosed used to rob banks a few years ago, and is aware that if Luke wants to provide for his son and Romina, he needs a lot more cash. Working as a pair, with Luke using his impressive motorcycling skills and Robin as getaway driver, they rob a few local banks, whilst at the same time, Luke remains close to Romina and gets to know his son better.
Romina’s partner Kofi, remains wary of Luke’s presence, particularly as he has the habit of showing up at their house unannounced, with goods purchased with stolen money. After an altercation, leaving Kofi hospitalised, Luke is arrested and later bailed by Robin, the latter quitting from robbing banks as he sees Luke as hot tempered and too much of a risk. Unperturbed, Luke continues solo.
To say anymore would give away too much, and it’s probably best not to say anything of the final act either. The second act focuses on local cop, Avery Cross, played by Bradley Cooper. An educated, firmly middle class man in contrast to Luke’s drifter-type. Cross has political connections through his dad, who’s a former judge, and this part of the film focuses on his rise from a policeman on the beat to career politician, via a Serpico like sub-plot, featuring Ray Liotta. Basically, anytime these days you see Ray Liotta in a film, you know something wrong and bad is going to go down, and that Ray’s up to no good. See Killing Them Softly for example, which incidentally also features Ben Mendelsohn as a low life degenerate.
All i’ll say about the final third of the film, is that it’s set 15 years after the events of the first two acts, and features Dane DeHaan, who was particularly excellent in Chronicle, and whom I would cast as a young Mark E Smith, if ever there was a Fall biopic on the cards.
All in all, it’s an immensely far-reaching film, which if you read literally, is too easy to dismiss and pour scorn on, particularly given the final act. Thematically, it’s bears comparison to The Godfather, in terms of paternal responsibilities, redemption and revenge. It’s 141 minutes long and seems even longer, and I think the final act falls a little short in quality in comparision to the first two. That said, the performances throughout are terrific. Gosling, Cooper and Eva Mendes are all superb as the leading actors, and they are given terrific support by the aforementioned DeHaan, Mendelsohn, Liotta, and also Bruce Greenwood.
What with Gosling playing a biker, the motorcycle shots are exhilarating, particularly in the robbery scenes, and upstate New York looks incredibly beautiful.
I should have seen From the Sea to the Land Beyond last year at the BFI, with British Sea Power accompaniment, but despite buying my ticket, I rather stupidly chose to watch England vs Sweden on the TV instead. Fortunately, as part of Sundance this year, the band were once again playing live to the film, this time at the Indigo. The documentary film is directed by Penny Woolcock, showing a portrait of the British coastline during the 20th century, using archive video clips. It has been shown on TV, and is now available on DVD.
Musically, BSP perform slower, re-arranged (largely instrumental) versions of their back catalogue (“All in It”, excerpt from “Carrion”, “The Land Beyond” etc) and incidental music. It’s a captivating film, genuinely moving (particularly during the clips documenting the two World Wars), and often amusing. It covers Britain’s industrial strength and decline, the great ships that were built, followed by the empty dockyards, as well as natural history, a section devoted to the R.N.L.I and the discovery of oil in the North Sea. Well worth purchasing the DVD, as the archive film footage is extraordinary. Be amazed at seeing a woman abseil down a cliff face in order to poach eggs from nests, upper class silliness on the beach pre-1914 and working class drunkenness in Blackpool in the late 90s. Wonderful stuff.