By Marty Mulrooney
The Place Beyond The Pines is a drama directed by Derek Cianfrance (Blue Valentine). The film stars Ryan Gosling as Luke Glanton, a motorcycle stuntman who turns to a life of crime in order to support his family, and Bradley Cooper as Avery Cross, a policeman who makes a split-second decision that will change his life forever.
The Place Beyond The Pines is a film full of small, intimate moments. It opens in a cramped trailer with a shirtless – and heavily tattooed – Luke Glanton (Gosling) playing with a flick knife, before stepping out into the crisp night air, pulling on his clothes as he walks toward his nightly destiny, lighting a cigarette as he passes countless flashing amusement stands, bustling crowds and the dull, thudding sound of desperation disguised as fun for the whole family, step right up. He arrives at a large tent and heads inside, putting on a helmet as he mounts his motorcycle. Then he drives inside a large metal ball with two other riders and defies death for a faceless crowd and minimum wage.
Afterwards, Luke stops outside to sign autographs and locks eyes with a face he immediately recognises: Romina (Eva Mendes). It isn’t a social call. Although Romina backs out of telling Luke the truth, he soon finds out that she has recently given birth to a baby boy – his son. This revelation is the lynchpin of the film, holding together the various plot elements as Luke’s life slowly falls apart. He quits his job as a stunt performer and hooks up with Robin (Ben Mendelsohn), an auto repair shop owner who it soon turns out used to be a bank robber. Before long, the pair are performing successful heists – but for Luke, it will never be enough.
Romina is living with another man and Luke is always on the outside looking in. He lurks unseen at the back of a vast church, totally out-of-place as his infant son is baptised – claimed by yet another father that isn’t him – tears rolling freely down his face. He later laments “I’m still his father. I can give him stuff.” It’s heartbreaking to see a man so far gone down one path trying to desperately crawl up another. At one point Robin warns Luke “If you ride like lightning, you’re gonna crash like thunder.” The thunder comes in the unlikely form of Bradley Cooper as Officer Avery Cross, a cop fresh on the job who makes a judgement call that will impact both men’s lives so hard, their son’s will have to live with the shock waves.
The Place Beyond The Pines is a three act film that shifts away from falling into any particular genre, and is all the better for it. It starts as a slow-burning drama before changing gear and becoming a heist movie – the motorcycle robberies are dizzying to watch and masterfully filmed, providing an overwhelming adrenaline rush for both Luke and the viewer. Later, Ray Liotta turns up as a corrupt cop – a role he could sleepwalk through, but that instead ends up becoming one of his most intimidating roles to date – and the film leans toward becoming a Serpico-esque police thriller. Then the final act arrives – jumping forward in time 15 years – and all bets are off.
The wonderful Blue Valentine (the first Gosling/Cianfrance collaboration) focused on the relationship between a married couple who couldn’t remember how to love each other any more. The Place Beyond The Pines aims its sights squarely on the relationship between fathers and their sons. Ryan Gosling is one of the finest actors of his generation – and one of the most reliable actors currently working in films today – and his understated yet powerful performance therefore comes as no surprise. Bradley Cooper is the real surprise of The Place Beyond The Pines, delivering a nuanced performance that ends with him upon his knees in the woods, a creased photograph in his wallet that could be the key to his damnation or salvation. It turns out The Place Beyond The Pines is different for every person – it’s a sentiment that sums up the film nicely.
9 OUT OF 10