Top 10 films of 2013: The Place Beyond The Pines

Odd List Ryan Lambie
20 Dec 2013 - 05:57

Our top ten list of favourite films continues with The Place Beyond The Pines. Ryan explains why it's one of 2013's absolute finest...

Over the past few weeks, Den of Geek writers have been voting for their favourite films of the year. Democracy dictated that in the ninth place was this one: The Place Beyond The Pines...

9. The Place Beyond The Pines

There’s a cold, desolate beauty in Derek Cianfrance’s The Place Beyond The Pines, a drama about motorcycle riders and seemingly unbreakable cycles of violence. Impeccably acted and unusual in structure, it daringly stretches its story across multiple generations and a gulf of 15 years.

Ryan Gosling stars as young motorcycle stunt rider Luke, who falls into a robbing banks to help look after his newborn child (“Good luck supporting your son on a minimum wage” says Ben Mendelsohn’s character, in a key line), but finds himself ill equipped to deal with the stresses of a life of crime.

On the other side of the tracks, there’s 20-something cop Avery (Bradley Cooper), who blackmails his way to a promotion and gets on the wrong side of Ray Liotta’s crooked lawman in the process. These two characters and their children, who later grow into Dane DeHaan’s wayward youth Jason and Emory Cohen’s spoiled wannabe rebel AJ, form a complex story that examines two opposing ends of the social spectrum, and how circumstances define who we become as adults.

Although not without its glimmers of light among all the shade - not least Gosling’s hideous 90s dress sense and the unforgettable scene where he dances with a dog to Bruce Springsteen - The Place Beyond The Pines is a difficult, bleak movie, but also a rewarding one. Cinema often deals with crime and punishment, but more commonly glosses over the social and economic reasons why these crimes happen. Cianfrance’s film tackles the subject head on, and does so with charisma and grace, thanks to some great writing and a superb cast, which also includes Eva Mendez, Rose Byrne and Bruce Greenwood.

Gosling continues his form of choosing challenging and unusual roles, and while The Place Beyond The Pines’ opening shot might imply that Gosling’s channelling the spirit of bike-riding outsiders like Marlon Brando here, neither he nor Cianfrance romanticise his ill-educated and angry character. Gosling’s Luke is the direct opposite of Avery’s young son, AJ, who grows up in a big house with flags in the front garden, and plays out a fantasy of being a slick-haired outsider; Luke breaks the law because he can see no other means of earning money, while for AJ, crime and violence are an affectation.

In a film packed full of superb performances, Cooper proves to be Gosling’s equal, while DeHaan once again proves that he’s among America’s most talented young actors. Their layered, melancholy turns are matched by Mike Patton’s murmuring score and Sean Bobbitt’s cinematography.

Although the unusual structure of Cianfrance’s film affects its pacing in places, the story’s two parts create a mirror effect, where the actions of one generation ripple and disturb the fates of the characters in the next. Relevant and brave in terms of subject and almost flawless in execution, The Place Beyond The Pines is among 2013‘s best American dramas.

Like Michael Cimino’s The Deer Hunter, it captures the concerns and mood of a generation - in this instance, one indelibly affected by the 2007-08 financial crisis - and like the classic novel Wuthering Heights, tells a human story with detail and breadth.

At a time where directors are increasingly turning to television to tell adult stories, Cianfrance's The Place Beyond The Pines emerges as one of the year's most moving and relevant dramas.

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