Place Beyond the Pines, The (UK - BD RB)
Chris checks out the Blu-ray release of Derek Cianfrance's latest feature film...
A mysterious and mythical motorcycle racer, Luke (Ryan Gosling), drives out of a travelling carnival "globe of death" and whizzes through the back streets of Schenectady, New York - desperately trying to connect with a former lover, Romina (Eva Mendes), who recently and secretly gave birth to the stunt rider's son. In an attempt to provide for his new family, Luke quits the carnival life and commits a series of bank robberies aided by his superior riding ability. The stakes rise as Luke is put on a collision course with an ambitious police officer, Avery Cross (Bradley Cooper), looking to quickly move up the ranks in a police department riddled with corruption. The sweeping drama unfolds over fifteen years as the sins of the past haunt the present days lives of two high school boys wrestling with the legacy they've inherited. The only refuge is found in the place beyond the pines. (Taken from the PR.)
I caught The Place beyond the Pines during its limited UK theatrical run without any prior knowledge of the film. From the moody opening moments I thought I was in for another Drive, but as events played out it soon dawned on me that it was a very different beast indeed. At its core the film is a story about relationships, specifically those between fathers and sons, and how the choices one makes can have a profound effect on future generations. It certainly resonated with me, giving cause to ponder the whole 'nature versus nurture' thing and how it can be difficult to overcome our demons, however hard we try. This is exemplified in the character of Luke Glanton (Ryan Gosling), who simply wants to do right by his infant son but who ends up making a series of calamitous decisions, no doubt coloured by his own dysfunctional relationship with his father. As the film progresses we come to realise that even 'honourable' characters can be guilty of making similar mistakes, again with far-reaching consequences.
As with many of the better films I've seen this year, The Place Beyond the Pines features some wonderful imagery and an atmospheric score. I was also very impressed by the various performances, particularly Gosling, who has turned playing mean and moody characters into an art form. However, the biggest surprise was Mendes, who delivered a pretty solid turn after years of playing relatively lightweight characters (not that I'm an authority on her work). There are also very strong turns from Cooper and Ben Mendelsohn. If I had to make one criticism it would be that the opening act is by far the most interesting and compelling of the three. Once the action shifts to Cooper's character the film loses much of its momentum, and this is even more obvious during the final act. The tone really shifts at the forty minute mark and what comes next almost feels like and entirely different film. Not a bad one per se, but certainly a little flat when compared to what came before. Still, it's a decent picture overall and one that I'm happy to recommend.
An almost fantastic encode of a pristine source ensures that The Place Beyond the Pines doesn't disappoint in the visual department. The 2.40:1 (1080/24p AVC) transfer here closely resembles the theatrical screening I attended back in April, at least as far as I can recall. Detail is excellent throughout in both close-ups and mid-shots,with no obvious signs of digital filtering in evidence (there's a healthy dose of grain on show). Colours are at once muted and surprisingly strong, particularly the bright lights of the carnival and the lush greens of the forests, while contrast is generally stable if occasionally pushed a little in the later acts. While black levels aren't particularly inky it's a stylistic choice that I vividly recall from the theatrical screening, so I won't be penalising the Blu-ray presentation. So, why did I write almost in my opening sentence? Well, some of the darker areas of the screen exhibit macroblocking, most noticeably those those that occur during the opening scenes at the carnival, but also at other intervals throughout. Truth be told I didn't really notice the issue until I came to take the screen captures, but I appreciate that many of you will be viewing on larger screens at closer viewing distances, so I had to take it into consideration when scoring. It's a pity, as it's about the only negative thing I have to say about the transfer, but I don't think it's acceptable on any release let alone such a new, high-profile title. With that said, it's doesn't ruin the presentation and the film looks great for vast majority of the run time, but it is disappointing.
The disc offers both LPCM 2.0 Stereo and DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 tracks. Annoyingly the LPCM track is selected by default, so I initially thought that there was something wrong with the surrounds during the opening scenes. Once I realised what the problem was I restarted the film, making the switch to the 5.1 track. This resulted in a much wider soundstage, with an opening carnival sequence that's full to bursting with atmospheric effects. There's also a surprising amount of directionality in the mix, with some of the more memorable examples involving Luke's motorcycle; the sounds of the vehicle's revving engine and screeching tyres pan between speakers as it roars across the screen, accompanied by just enough bass to lend weight without sounding overcooked. Prioritisation is generally pretty good as well, although there were a few moments where the dialogue became a little indistinct. However, these moments occurred when the characters themselves were in situations that would render dialogue unintelligible, such as the aforementioned carnival or the vast expanse of a forest. There's no such trouble with the melancholic score though, which ably supports the rest of the elements without ever overwhelming them. All in all this is a very atmospheric track that greatly enhances the mood of the on-screen events.
- Audio Commentary with Co-Writer/Director Derek Cianfrance: This is a really engaging track in which Cianfrance relays all manner of interesting on-set anecdotes, from the near-death of the DP and Ryan Gosling's choice in tattoos, to almost pulling Ben Mendelsohn's teeth and Bradley Cooper's peeing habits.
- Deleted & Extended Scenes: Cianfrance touches on the reasons for excising these scenes in his commentary track, and having seen them I agree. While there are some cute moments there's nothing that really adds to the film in any meaningful way, so removing them for pacing wasn't a bad choice.
- “Going to The Place Beyond The Pines” Featurette: This is a very short promo piece featuring footage from the film inter-cut with the actors and director explaining the basic premise.
- Trailer: The film's theatrical trailer presented in high-definition.
I really enjoyed The Place Beyond the Pines the first time around, but I felt that it lost some of its momentum after the first act and meandered a little towards the end. The same holds true on my second viewing, and I think it could benefit from a few trims here and there to tighten things up. Don't get me wrong, it's a good movie filled with strong performances and compelling themes, but it's not a great one. Technically the Blu-ray release is very impressive, serving up gorgeous visuals accompanied by a very strong soundtrack, but the supplemental features let the side down somewhat (Cianfrance's commentary track is really the only feature worth bothering with). Don't let the relative lack of extras put you off though, as the quality of the film and its presentation are the overriding factors here.
* Note: The images below are taken from the Blu-ray release and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.
Review by Chris Gould
Suitable only for persons of 18 years and over
Release Date: 12th August 2013
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English, LPCM 2.0 English
Extras: Audio Commentary, Deleted Scenes, Featurette, Trailer
Easter Egg: No
Director: Derek Cianfrance
Cast: Ryan Gosling, Bradley Cooper, Eva Mendes, Ray Liotta, Ben Mendelsohn, Rose Byrne, Mahershala Ali, Bruce Greenwood, Dane DeHaan, Emory Cohen
Length: 140 minutes
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