The Place Beyond the Pines
Derek Cianfrance won my heart with his movie Blue Valentine and now, he and Ryan Gosling team up again for another great piece of film-making in The Place Beyond the Pines. The movie is perfectly set in Schenectady, NY – a shabby industrial town close to New York’s State capitol, Albany, originally put on the map by General Electric Co, but at this point one which has seen better economic days. The movie spans two generations and explores father/son relationships on different levels and the strong influence that fathers have on their sons, even when not physically present.
The movie opens with a cool scene in which amazing motorcyclist “Handsome Luke” (aptly played by heart-throb Ryan Gosling) performs a circus stunt in one of those globe shaped cages. He comes to find out that has a baby son, Jason, mothered by a beautiful woman, Romina, (Eva Mendes) that he had hooked up with the year prior when the circus had previously been in town. Luke is extremely moved by knowing that he has a child, and wants to be a part of Jason’s life – provide for him, and patch it up with the mother. He wants to change and lead a more stable life. But it is not so easy. Finding a job proves difficult (shocker!) and he eventually turns to a life of crime, using his motorcycling skills to rob banks. Luke has impulsivity control and violent tendencies – which Romina quickly comes to understand, so she rejects him. Things go downhill quickly for him and eventually culminate in Luke’s death in a police shoot out after one of his bank heists goes wrong.
In enters character Avery (Bradley Cooper) who is the policeman that shot and killed Luke. Avery and wife Jennifer have a son about the same age as Jason (named AJ). So when Avery learns that he shot down a young father, it alters his own relationship with his boy. He feels profound guilt over leaving Jason fatherless and it becomes difficult for the two to bond. Meanwhile, Avery also gets embroiled in a web of crooked cops within the Schenectady PD and eventually he leaves the force to become an assistant DA and later a politician.
Time passes, and the two kids are now around 16 years old. AJ and Jason kind of become friends, finding commonality in their love for pot and usual teenage shenanigans. AJ is a weird kid and seems rather manipulative. He speaks kind of like a Long Island guido and his behavior is strange. He seems to lack a sense of right and wrong. His relationship with his father Avery is strained and flawed. It seems AJ turns into a big baby in his dad’s presence, wanting very much to get his attention and praise. But there is an imaginary wall that keeps the two from having a good relationship and it has something to do with Jason…
Meanwhile, Jason is struggling to come to terms with the history of his own father (Luke). After Luke’s death, Romina had married a good man who became Jason’s surrogate father. But Jason has a drive for the truth about his biological dad. Romina had kept the details of Luke’s death a secret for many years but Jason does some research and figures out the truth and begins to digest all that has happened. He knows that AJ’s father had a lot to do with his father’s death and thinks that AJ is provoking him – eventually it all comes to a head. The audience is left thinking that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree and whether or not a seemingly good kid like Jason can over come his genetic demons.
The film was a bit slow at times, but filled with some suspenseful moments. I think that Cianfrance is a masterful director who knows how to make banal drudgery of day to day life become dramatic and poignant. The realism is what makes his films shine since they are all rather simple in terms of “hollywood bling”. Too much glitz would seem superfluous with such intricately woven stories that rely more on underlying psychological implications and depth of characters rather than expensive tricks. But that being said about the “bling”, there are some really cool action scenes in the movie and as mentioned above the opening scene with the bike stunt is pretty fun. The films are also propped up by great acting, in this case by both Gosling and Cooper, among many others.
Leave yourself a lot of time if you see this one, it is long. I do enthusiastically recommend it, but realize you will be left feeling heavy and pensive by the end…