There is something of a Greek tragedy in Derek Cianfrance’s The Place Beyond the Pines. The director, whose penchant for painful drama became evident in his heartbreaking 2010 feature Blue Valentine, co-wrote and directed this story about two cracked familial lineages whose paths intertwine in a very dark way.
Luke (Ryan Gosling) is a bleach-blond motorcycle stuntman, with a bleeding dagger inked on his left cheek, and a multitude of regretful tattoos all over his torso, arms, and neck. He signs autographs at the arcades at night, and hangs around aimlessly during the day. That is, until one day he learns that he has fathered a baby boy with flame Romina (Eva Mendes). Luke feels that it is his duty to provide for her and the child, but his set of skills is way too special to get an ordinary job. So he gets hired by, in typical film-noir fashion, garage owner Robin (Ben Mendelsohn) who teaches him a thing or two about robbing banks. “If you ride like lightning, you’re going to crash like thunder,” he warns him, and this piece of wisdom is what drives the entire film. Luke becomes so good at it, that pretty soon he is scheduling more than one bank robbery a day. But that is an occupation doomed to go down in fumes eventually, when the police weighs in after a robbery goes wrong.
We are then introduced to Avery Cross (Bradley Cooper in his second best role since The Silver Linings Playbook), an idealist cop whose moral compass is not his best friend. After unveiling corruption inside the police department, Avery is promoted to Assistant District Attorney, abandoning his job as an on-duty policeman because he has seen and done too much. Within fifteen years, we find him divorced from his wife Jennifer (Rose Byrne) and taking in his delinquent teenage son AJ (Emory Cohen) who is not the good son his father should have raised him to be.
It is hard to review The Place Beyond the Pines without revealing a spoiler somewhere, so I will stop here. Cianfrance has crafted a story about masculinity and manhood so exquisite, that all you can talk about is the plot itself – not the dialogue, or the acting, or the score, or the stylistics of the film. Aided by a great cast and the haunting melody of Mike Patton’s “Snow Angel,” running at nearly two and a half hours, the film is essentially a fable about fathers and sons, and their constant struggle to live up to someone’s expectations. Cianfrance paints a bleak picture of manhood, presenting us with male characters who are all cowards on one level or another, and who are deeply, irreparably flawed either by their own doing, or by fate. The use of scenery in The Place Beyond the Pines is effective in achieving a sense of doom as opposed to relief – even in the place beyond the pines sins of the past are quick to catch up with the protagonists. In the same way that the mountains outlast human life and remain in the same place they have always been, the mistakes we make outlive us and have a crashing effect on the future.
By Radina Papukchieva