‘The Place Beyond the Pines’ Is Three Stories Linked by Grit, Father Issues and Family Foes

From the primary scene we are consumed into the visual magic presented to us by cinematographer Sean Bobbitt. Ryan Gosling’s muscular body is outlined through the darkness as he flicks open and closed a butterfly knife. Discarding the iconic scorpion designed racer jacket for a shiny new red one, Gosling marches through a fairground in an extraordinary long take as the camera races behind him.

The documentary styled deep-focus filmmaking acts as the perfect opportunity for our eyes to catch the impact of dodgems colliding, and for a moment it feels as though we have been transported to Times Square as glittering lights pour onto the screen. Although the story is set far from the New York luxurious dream as the title is based upon — the English translation of the city Schenectady — the title foreshadows the shady crime that is destined to follow. The harsh colours and playground melodies heighten our senses to the point where we can almost smell the sweet candyfloss emanating from the stalls.

Despite the rupture of applause that welcomes Luke Glanton (Gosling) when he reaches his destination at the Globe of Death, he appears emotionless. He is numb and tired. We initially understand this state of dissatisfaction through camera direction rather than through Gosling’s facial expressions. The traveller is waiting for something or someone to change his life.

Gosling acts as the same moody mysterious Marlon Brando impersonator that we have previously seen in Drive, only this time he’s less motivated by vengeance and more by redemption. He wants to contribute to the life of his new born child.

Glanton is a famous local stunts man who discovers in Altamont, New York that his ex-girlfriend, Romina (Eva Mendes) has given birth to his first boy, Jason. This gives him the perfect excuse to depart from his motorcycle stunt career and to embark on his new role of being a father. Glanton is determined to do what his father could not. However, his methods of providing funding for his child — partaking in robberies — makes it only a matter of time before something goes horribly wrong for him.

With this one simple plot we already have a substantial enough story that could last the duration of the film. However, The Place Beyond the Pines is from the mind of Derek Cianfrance; the director who left an everlasting impression upon us through his interpretation of a doomed love story in Blue Valentine. Again, Cianfrance has prevailed in his provocative storytelling through illustrating three connected tales enlightened by fully-round characters.

Usually in films when the protagonist alters halfway through the story, we become distanced to these characters. However, the story in The Place Beyond the Pines flows well; we remain engaged by each central character. The gloomy tone of Blue Valentine is again captured here through the rough realism reminiscent of a Ken Loach film.

Daddy issues are also apparent in the second act of the film. Now, instead of looking at public crime, we are faced with the corruption of the police-force. This brings to mind Silver Linings Playbook, where Bradley Cooper makes it evident that he can act seriously now, in comparison to his earlier Hangover days. Unfortunately, Cooper is still unable to overshadow the grueling intensity that glows from Gosling in each role he masters.

At first we sympathise for Avery Cross (Cooper), as he is a man out of his depth in both his work and in his home life. Cross attempts to make amends for his newbie cop fatal error. However, as he blackmails his way to the top of the police force, he becomes the corrupt symbol in law enforcement. Cross becomes the rebirth of his ever-present father — who is a judge — when he ends up running for public office.

The core of this story is discovered within the final chapter of this beautiful trilogy. We are now forced to analyse the next generation, to see how both Glanton and Cross’ sons will develop due to the past consequences of their fathers. Chronicle’s Dane DeHaan puts on a mesmerising performance as the teenage Jason through his fragile characterisation that has resulted in the quest to find his father. Whereas, Avery’s son AJ (Emory Cohen) is an unsympathetic bully who is fueled by the fact that his father wasn’t there for him during childhood.

The film as a whole agrees with the theory that our early nurture (or the lack of it) determines how we will end up in the future, that we are more or less destined to follow in our father’s footsteps. The Place Beyond the Pines is an artistic endeavor that will be enjoyed by those who are interested in the ‘sins of our fathers’ philosophy.

The DVD and Blu-ray release offers one featurette, deleted scenes and a feature commentary from director Derek Cianfrance. Short interview snippets from the cast, including Gosling, Cooper and Mendes, are included in the featurette. We learn here that Cianfrance started writing the part of Avery Cross with Cooper in mind..

RATING 8 / 10