Film Review: Place Beyond the Pines survives a few missteps

The Place Beyond the Pines
Rated R for language throughout, some violence, teen drug and alcohol use, and a sexual reference

The Place Beyond the Pines tells a story in three “acts,” that may or may not be inspired by the Old Testament theme of children suffering “for the iniquity of [their] parents” (Exodus 20:5). Either way, it makes for a compelling if oddly structured drama.

Set in Schenectady, N.Y., the film starts in the late 1990s. Luke Glanton (Ryan Gosling), a motorcycle stunt rider in a traveling carnival, returns after a year’s absence and finds that his former lover, Romina (Eva Mendes), has given birth to a son from their brief time together. She’s in a new, stable relationship and doesn’t want anything from Luke; but he can’t accept that, and decides he will stay in town, earn a living and somehow be united with Romina and the boy.

Ryan Gosling plays a drifter who turns to crime to provide money for his infant son in The Place Beyond the Pines. PHOTO COURTESY FOCUS FEATURES

We know that’s unlikely, even if he doesn’t. Before long, desperation and an unwise alliance with a small-time crook leads Luke into robbing banks, using his bike for quick getaways. At first he avoids capture, but carelessness and a violent temper bring him to a fateful encounter with the local police.

From there the story shifts focus to Avery Cross (Bradley Cooper), a rookie cop with a law degree who is, himself, a new father. Avery’s run-in with Luke proves his bravery and dedication to duty. But a few of his colleagues on the force aren’t as scrupulous, so he faces a dilemma: Should he remain on the streets and risk his own eventual corruption? Or turn state’s witness against those partners and switch careers from catching criminals to prosecuting them?

Without spoiling the plot, we can reveal that the choice Avery makes provides a comfortable life for his wife and infant son, but leaves him a tainted man.

The tale then skips forward 15 years. In a twist that’s perhaps a bit contrived, Luke’s son Jason (Dane DeHaan) and Avery’s son AJ (Emory Cohen) meet as high school freshmen. For a while they hang out together, and one kid’s regrettable influence over the other leads them both into trouble, including drug and alcohol abuse, petty theft and arrest. Inevitably the two learn that their fathers’ lives were connected.

The performances are mostly superb. Mr. Cooper surpasses his dramatic breakthrough in Silver Linings Playbook with an even stronger turn here. Mr. Gosling—if still in need of a truly career-defining role—makes a lasting impression with limited screen time. Mr. DeHaan, a relative newcomer, also stands out.

Despite a few flaws in the script, director/co-writer Derek Cianfrance manages to wrap it up with a persuasive expression of regret and remorse from one the characters. Overall, it’s a worthy follow-up to the filmmaker’s 2010 debut effort, Blue Valentine, a portrait of a dying marriage that, if anything, is even more poignant than this one.

bfentum@umr.org

 

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Bill Fentum, Former UMR Associate Editor

Bill Fentum

Bill Fentum was a dedicated employee of The United Methodist Reporter from 1985 to 2013, serving as the associate editor. Bill continues his work in journalism in a variety of positions as an independent journalist.

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