Written by Derek Cianfrance, Ben Coccio, and Darius Marder and directed by Cianfrance, “The Place Beyond the Pines” is a film about the mistakes a man can make and how those choices effect others over time. The film plays with the expectations ingrained in most audiences’ psyche as we follow several characters that interact by chance in Synecdoche New York. Now, due to the nature of this narrative, spoilers will be included in this review, but I do recommend this film- mainly for the cinematography and flow of the narrative.
We begin the story by following Ryan Gosling’s traveling motorcyclist Luke who essentially lives with a traveling carnival. After a show in Synecdoche Luke sees an old flame, Romina (Eva Mendes) and offers her a ride home. The next day he stops back at her house and is met by her mother holding a small blonde child, Luke’s son. Once he is met with the realization that he is a father he offers to help the best way he can. So he quits the carnival, meets some guy on a quad while out motocrossing through the woods (as you do), tries to work for that guy on his property through mechanic work, then starts robbing banks once he discovers that doesn’t pay well enough. Eventually things go awry, as bank robberies tend to do, and Luke gets into a chase sequence with a rookie cop that ends in a suburban house with Luke and the rookie cop both shooting each other and Luke falling to his death.
From that point on we follow the story of that cop, Avery (who also happens to be played by Bradley Cooper). He’s labeled a hero but is constantly fraught with guilt over Luke’s death as Avery also had a son roughly the same age. After some time he finds that he’s in a police department swarmed with corruption and fraud-which is where Ray Liotta turns up and gets to play his traditional gangster bit as a corrupt cop. Shortly after this we jump fifteen years forward in time to focus on both Luke and Avery’s sons and how they eventually interact and discover the truths surrounding their fathers’ lives.
What I enjoyed most about this film was the curvy path this narrative took. There are also some real emotional linchpins throughout that are visually compelling and thoughtfully acted by both Cooper and Gosling. Both are trying to make better lives for their sons, but both fail them in different ways. The story feels more cyclical than it may be, but while the film is unique in the way it tells its story, its themes and arcs feel familiar all the same. Possibly because stories about fathers and sons are as old as time itself, but also because it connects to universal goals of fatherhood and the anxieties that come from it. In any case, “The Place Beyond the Pines” is available on Netflix (at least at the time of writing this review) and I recommend giving it a watch.
Final Score: Two fathers, two sons