The Place Beyond the Pines (Derek Cianfrance, 2013)

What's it about? When motorbike stunt rider Luke (Ryan Gosling) finds out he has a young son from a fling with Romina (Eva Mendes), he feels compelled to provide for his unexpected family. However, he soon turns to crime to earn the necessary money, which brings him into contact with ambitious young cop Avery (Bradley Cooper).


Is it any good? From the description above, you might be expecting a straightforward cop vs criminal thriller. Well, don't. This is not that type of film, aiming for something more ambitious in its structure and themes. It is assembled as a triptych, with three distinct chapters connecting the characters across a number of years. The first chapter focuses on Luke and his struggle to be the father figure he never had. The second shifts attention to Avery who is trying to avoid becoming like his own father. The third takes place years later as the sons of both men meet. In each chapter, each main character faces tough moral decisions and the consequences of their actions resonate across the stories. This all plays out in engrossing enough fashion, with some great motorbike action sequences during the bank robbery sequences, before moving on to some good old-fashioned police corruption stuff. However, it stumbles in the final part, which is not as strong as the preceding two and fails to bring everything together satisfactorily. It is here that Cianfrance is striving for something along the lines of Greek tragedy (note the namechecks; Jason, AJ, Troy) as the sins of the fathers are revisited upon their sons. With this in mind, the contrivances that bring about the third act can be forgiven, but that doesn't hide the fact that it doesn't find a particularly satisfying resolution, which means the film is ultimately less than the sum of its parts.  Still, there's some good stuff to enjoy here, whilst the ladies will no doubt enjoy ogling a brooding, tattooed Gosling and a cleancut Cooper in uniform. Good soundtrack too.

Anything else I should know? The opening tracking shot, which follows Gosling as he makes his way through hundreds of extras at a carnival to take part in the Globe of Death motorcycle attraction, was a tricky affair to capture. The original director of photography, Andrij Parekh (who had worked with Cianfrance on Blue Valentine), dropped out of the project when he had a dream he would die making it. Scoffing at such superstition, the replacement DP Sean Bobbitt took up the challenge and insisted the tracking shot should end with the camera inside the globe, waving aside warnings that there would be three motorbikes whizzing round him. Naturally it all went tits up on the first go, with all three bikes crashing and landing on top of him. Presumably trying to save face, he gallantly offered to do it again and once again ended up getting hit by a bike. Cianfrance decided enough was enough and called a halt to filming for the day. At around 3AM that night he got a call from the desk clerk in his hotel telling him there was a bloke wandering round the foyer in his underwear asking for tomatoes. Seems that getting hit in the head with a speeding motorbike gives you pretty bad concussion - who knew? Anyway, that's why the finished shot finishes outside the globe, but it's still pretty good.


Can you spot when Gosling gets replaced by the stunt double?
Ah, the magic of cinema.
  
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