Derek Cianfrance pulled no punches in his début film Blue Valentine and he shows no signs of slowing down with The Place Beyond The Pines. But where Blue Valentine focussed tightly on the two central characters falling in and out of love, the sense of scale has been ramped up taking The Place Beyond The Pines into grander territory.
Focussing on the lives of two fathers, the central conflict comes from people who are neither wholly good or wholly bad but the beautifully murky grey area of just trying to do what's best for their families. In the first two acts, of this film which is very clearly divided into three parts, focus on the trials of Luke and Avery. Luke (Ryan Gosling) is a motorcycle stunt rider who, upon returning to a town with his annually touring show, finds he has a child that he fathered the previous year and sets out to provide for him in the only way he can. His less than lawful profession sets him on a collision course with the incorruptible cop in Avery (Bradley Cooper) and worlds collide as the two men and their families struggle to come to terms with the consequences over the next two decades.
TPBTP is a long film, and it feels long too, but if you can invest yourself in it it pays off in spades. There are no heroes here, only people ruled by their emotions and their efforts to do what is right. Mistakes, guilt and lies echo through generations as the sins of the father are imprinted on those who are doomed to also suffer for them. You may find yourself a little lost at the end of the first act and wondering why any of the progression we get of Avery in the second chunk matters, but it all comes to fruition in the understated and powerful final half hour.
It will be a film that polarises audiences. Many will criticise its awkward pacing and overly lengthy run time. But for those who love characters who are fundamentally broken, especially those who have major identity issues with their somewhat broken homes, this film will resonate to the core. Personally, I saw a lot of powerful emotions reflected back at me that I've dealt with myself. Never to the degree shown here, but I'd argue that anyone who has an issue with a parent would struggle to empathise here.