The Place Beyond the Pines

Year: 2012
Production Co: Sidney Kimmel Entertainment
Director: Derek Cianfrance
Writer: Derek Cianfrance/Ben Coccio, Darius Marder
Cast: Ryan Gosling, Bradley Cooper, Ben Mendelsohn, Rose Byrne, Ray Liotta, Bruce Greenwood, Emory Cohen, Dane DeHaan, Eva Mendes, Mahershala Ali

If you're looking for a theme, it might be that decisions can have far-reaching consequences and ramifications and how the sins of the father affect the son (s), but otherwise, you can just experience the human dynamic that swirls around a collection of people.

Ryan Gosling is Luke, a no hoper who makes a living doing a motorcycle stunt show with a travelling carnival and who finds himself in the town where he had a one night stand with Romina (Eva Mendes). Finding to his shock that Romina is now raising his baby, Luke makes the impulsive decision to quit his job and stay in town, wanting to be part of the boy's life. The problem is, Romina already has a steady partner in Kofi (Mahershala Ali), and Luke wanting to muscle in on their lives is anything but welcome.

The first thing writer/director Derek Cianfrance does well is paint Luke as the kind of man his character would be in real life. Where plenty of dramatic fantasies on film would portray him as a lovable rolling stone and a rebellious hero (a move that's probably very tempting for any director because of how handsome Gosling is no matter what a thug he's playing), The Place Beyond the Pines depicts Luke as he would be, a selfish wastrel who causes nothing but trouble for himself and everyone around him.

The only accommodation he can find is living in a garage owned by a scruffy but friendly mechanic Robin (Ben Mendelsohn), and he's so short of money that when Robin comes up with a scheme to rob banks, Luke takes it up with gusto.

He loves being able to buy stuff for his son and give Romina money, but the scene where he's let himself into Kofi and Romina's house to build a crib brings the truth about what kind of man Luke is into focus. He sees himself as a white-knighted hero to his little boy, but when Kofi tries to kick him out and it ends in a fight that sees an AVO levelled against him, Luke seems to get the clearest glimpse yet that he's just a deadbeat yokel.

Rejecting everything in life in his temper (including Robin) Luke does one more job and – because he does it carelessly – finds himself pursued by the cops. In desperation he holes up in a suburban house where he's cornered by a passing officer, Avery (Bradley Cooper), who's been lucky enough to spot him.

There the story shifts. Luke and Avery's tragic confrontation haunts Avery as he tries to get on with his life and career, rejoining the force after he's healed from his injuries, but he finds both himself and the police force he thought he loved very different things. Among the things that don't sit well with him is the cadre of colleagues who encourage him to join them in illegally raiding Romina's house and stealing the cash Luke gave her.

But more affecting is the change in his relationship with his own son. After the senseless waste of life he's witnessed and knowing Luke also had a baby boy, Avery finds himself barely able to look at his own son, possibly because of the fear of getting killed on duty and leaving the boy behind.

Unsure which way to turn but determined not to be compromised at work, Avery tells the senior IA guy (Bruce Greenwood) everything, ratting his colleagues out in return for a high level political position.

Years later in the third act (and third self-contained story), both young boys are teenagers and find thesmevles schoolmates when Avery's tearaway son AJ (Emory Cohen) moves to a new school and befriends ruffian Jason (Dane DeHaan), although they have no idea of the connection between them. When they're arrested for drug offences, Avery realises who Jason is and orders AJ to stay away from him, but once again the two families are destined to collide.

There's not a lot else to say about the movie besides describing the plot. It's a bit of a family soap opera, but there's nothing melodramatic or tawdry about it. Cianfrance has his actors play it completely straight, always with a slightly tragic air and very realistically.

I've read one review that described it as 'rote and linear', and even though it's not as bad as that review claimed, that description about sums it up. There's nothing that stands out in memory about the design or cinematography and it tells its story one scene and arc after another in macro as well as characters terms – leaving one major story and crossing to the next twice during the film – and doesn't seem to have anything grand or thematic to say apart from that. Even the name you assume has some significance to the plot is just the translation of the local Native American word for Schenectady, New York, where it's set.

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