A tale split into three. It tackles fatherhood, morality, loneliness and ambition. What it does best is present all of these throughout. I went into this film with a completely open and honestly ignorant mind and come out of it a happy man. Having unintentionally put it off for so long I was pleased to finally have the chance to sit down and take it all in and I wasn’t disappointed.
The Place Beyond the Pines or Schenectady, New York sits 72 miles north of Pine Plains in New York state. Oozing archetypal Americana, with greasy spoon cafeterias, a travelling fair and independent shops, we feel comfortable in recognisable surroundings, even if they are only recognisable on the screen. The atmospheres of both languish and triumph set the scene for the following mini trilogy.
Luke Glanton, a locally famous travelling motorcycle stuntman played by Ryan Gosling appears innocently rebellious with his tattoos and devil may care attitude. Romina (Eva Mendes) shakes this boy to his senses with the news that he is the father to six-month-old Jason. Glanton’s life suddenly demands more from him and he sets about an honest lifestyle in order to care for his son. A fortunate encounter with Robin (Ben Mendelsohn), a rural mechanic, offers Glanton a place to stay and work. Robin proposes a criminal venture involving Luke’s motorcycle prowess, a truck and the small matter of robbing banks. Eager to claim a stake in his son’s upbringing Luke can’t refuse and a successful period soon provides Luke with ample opportunity to impress and invade the lives of Romina and her new boyfriend Kofi. A violent, greedy and unlawful Luke Glanton emerges when Robin ends their partnership and the film takes a dramatic turn when we are thrown into the second part which follows Avery Cross (Bradley Cooper), an overnight police hero who has his own story to tell.
In a police precinct riddled with corruption Avery struggles with a silent crisis of conscience. Battling with fatherhood, guilt, and ambition we witness how he begins to destroy old relationships and open new doors of personal progression. Abandoning loyalty and friendship Avery puts everything on the line and we get sucked into his crisis of moral dilemmas and uncomfortable situations. Not many films are able to connect the characters with the audience in such a prolific way but Derek Cianfrance succeeds in making Avery accountable and associable. What struck me the most about Avery’s character was his inability to connect with his one year old son, for those of you that have seen it you’ll understand what I mean. Don’t quote me on this but I’d say Avery’s one year old son is on screen for a matter of seconds in about a forty-five minute part. It isn’t striking in the sense that it shocked me or compelled me to question something deeper, it is a subtle touch that needn’t be elaborated on in the film because the saying ‘less is more’ couldn’t be more true. It plants the seed that the final act of the film depends on. Avery’s inability to provide for his family because his conscience haunts him on a daily basis begins to haunt us as we get thrashed around in a whirlwind of human problems that succeed in affecting his family.
Fast-forward fifteen years and the void between Avery and his son AJ (Emery Cohen) has clearly not diminished. In fact it appears to have grown worse after Avery’s failure in appeasing his conscience. The third part of this intelligent film tackles fatherhood and morality first and foremost. But it also touches on issues of anger and revenge as the repercussions of that fateful day begin to affect those who have been sheltered from the truth. AJ moves in with his father who is now running for Attorney General of New York and befriends Jason. Unbeknown to their connection a brief encounter with the authorities for drug use and possession draws them deeper into a fated relationship.
Gosling opens the film with an explosion of excitement and anxiety and what follows is a Must-See attempt to reveal humanity’s struggle with morality and conscience. At times it feels disjointed, in part due to its structure but also the difference in pace but everything happens for a reason and we are rewarded with our patience.
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