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A Place Beyond the Pines (2013) photo

Derek Cianfrance’s intense crime drama A Place Beyond The Pines affected me in a way that a movie hasn’t in a long time. Just like his previous film, Blue Valentine, I couldn’t stop thinking about it for days. The movie opens with a single shot of Luke (Ryan Gosling), a professional motorcyclist in a circus show, preparing himself for his act. It’s a genius scene; we become intimately involved with his character without ever seeing his face. Luke then proceeds to carry out a fantasy-like bank-robbing spree in order to provide for his newly discovered year-old son and the child’s mother, Romina (Eva Mendes). This leads him to cross paths with Avery (Bradley Cooper), an extremely ambitious but young police officer sucked into the world of police corruption by higher ranking officers.

When the two worlds inevitably collide and we get to know Avery, who would normally be the antagonist of the story, I was shocked with the similarities between the characters. They were like doubles for each other; the same person born into two different lifestyles. One scene, in which Luke is trying to force money on Romina after he’s seriously fucked something up, is almost reenacted verbatim later on with Avery. This comparison that Cianfrance gave us of these two men stood out to me more than anything else. It made me realize how neither end of the justice spectrum is that different from the other, and that it really just matters what kind of lifestyle you’re born into. There was an unmistakable feeling of being unable to escape the fate that one is assigned at birth. Because of how we get to know both characters, there wasn’t a set antagonist to the film. It was more just like watching the lives and legacies of two men, which made the story so much more realistic and affecting. Along with that idea, I also couldn’t stop thinking about the image of the family picture taken in front of the ice cream store of Luke covering Romina’s tearful but smiling eyes while holding their baby. This picture stuck with me throughout the film, maybe because it captured the moment of beauty in an otherwise imperfect family, or maybe because it was just a very artistically crafted image.

I admire and applaud Cianfrance for creating the most realistic depictions of life in his films, even if that realism can at times feel shocking and/or depressing. (Blue Valentine, while a gorgeous, honest, intensely raw film, was probably most often referred to as “depressing” by people I knew who saw it, and I’m unsure they would feel differently about The Place Beyond the Pines.) Here, Cianfrance established an element of reality by using real bank tellers who had previously been robbed in real life to act in the bank robbery scenes. However, none of this could have been achieved without the perfect cast. I was beyond impressed with both Gosling and Cooper and thought it was both of their most fitting roles yet. I was also blown away by the actor who played Luke’s son, Dane DeHaan. He couldn’t have reminded me more of a young Leonardo DiCaprio, and this role seemed exactly like the one Leo would have wound up in when he was starting out. I think that DeHaan will do big things, and that the beginning of his acting career is a promising one.

This is by far and away the best movie I’ve seen this year, with Spring Breakers in second. It was so thought-provoking, and I wasn’t bored a second of the two and a half hours. It was captivating, and I can’t get this movie out of my head.