The “family drama” genre is usually one that is relegated to saccharine films that feel like movies of the week, or small-scale character pieces that explore dynamics within a contained story. With The Place Beyond the Pines, however, writer/director Derek Cianfrance boldly expands the scope of the “family drama” to an epic scale with an ambitious, unique structure that succeeds without sacrificing the compelling character interplay that grounds the story’s emotions. Themes of legacy and parenthood play out across three distinct acts buoyed by a magnetically reserved and nuanced Ryan Gosling performance that reverberates throughout the entire feature, culminating in one of the best films of 2013. Hit the jump for my review of The Place Beyond the Pines.
While Cianfrance previously proved he had a good handle on intimate character studies with the bleak relationship drama Blue Valentine, he took the “wildly ambitious” route with his follow-up film The Place Beyond the Pines. The pic opens by focusing on the story of Luke (Ryan Gosling), a talented motorcycle stuntman who clearly marches to the beat of his own drum. When Luke discovers that he has fathered a son with ex-lover Romina (Eva Mendes), he sets out to make things right by providing for the child and trying to reconcile with Romina. Part-time employment proves difficult for Luke to maintain, though, and he soon turns to robbing banks with the aid of his new friend Robin (Ben Mendelsohn) in the hopes of giving his son the opportunities he never had. To say any more would be to ruin the film’s surprises, but the impressive ensemble cast also features striking turns by Bradley Cooper, Rose Byrne, and Dane DeHaan.
While Pines certainly feels sprawling and epic—not unlike The Godfather or Magnolia—the film always maintains an emotional center that grounds the story. It never feels like the story is meandering, and Cianfrance does an excellent job of keeping the pic focused. The idea of our actions having consequences and reverberations in other people’s lives, and in the lives of our family, is not unique, but Cianfrance manages to examine the concept of legacy without making the film’s events feel coincidental or convenient.
The narrative and thematic success of The Place Beyond the Pines is all the more remarkable when you take into account that the film has no lead protagonist. Cianfrance’s expansive script manages to examine a number of different characters, but we always feel the emotional weight of the film’s first act—a testament both to Pines’ structure and the gravity of Gosling’s performance.
The film is presented in 1080p HD, and Sean Bobbitt’s gritty, realistic cinematography transfers gorgeously. The sound is solid as well, presented in 5.1 DTS-HD.
Sadly, the bonus features on this Blu-ray are lacking. Cianfrance provides an insightful and anecdote-filled audio commentary, but the only behind-the-scenes look at the film is a short, 5-minute EPK featurette called “Going to The Place Beyond the Pines,” which was released online prior to the film’s theatrical run. The disc also includes a collection of four deleted and extended scenes that are worthwhile and include additional score, but the lack of any kind of comprehensive look at the making of the film is disappointing.
On paper, The Place Beyond the Pines shouldn’t work. There’s no lead character, the story is sprawling, and the film’s unique structure prevents any one actor from being onscreen for too long. However, through Cianfrance’s focused direction, Bobbitt’s grounded-yet-theatrical cinematography, and a truly powerful performance by Ryan Gosling, Pines comes together beautifully as an emotional family drama on a grand scale. Though the Blu-ray’s bonus features lack any substantive look behind-the-scenes, the audio commentary is worth a listen and the film’s replay value makes The Place Beyond the Pines a solid purchase on Blu-ray.