The Place Beyond the Pines (2013)
Directed by Derek Cianfrance
Starring: Ryan Gosling, Bradley Cooper, Eva Mendes
Director and co-screenwriter Derek Cianfrance teams up with Ryan Gosling again and delivers a strong follow-up to the emotionally-driven Blue Valentine. The flaws of the couple were a big part of the failed marriage, but Cianfrance turns that up a notch in The Place Beyond the Pines. Here, everyone has flaws and it results to some terrible decisions with consequences short and long-term.
Beginning with Luke (Gosling), a tough and young motorcycle stuntman, he makes a living traveling around the nation and defying death in a metal sphere. But his lifestyle takes an unexpected turn when Romina shows up at the carnival after his performance. They share a short and bittersweet reconnection. You can feel they shared something big at one point, but something still lingers. That something is how Luke left behind his baby son, which he didn’t know about, that Romina and her new man, Kofi, have been caring for.
Gosling does some incredible acting as Luke, the lost anti-hero who is charming and likable, but with a dark side. He decides to stay in Schnenectady and wants to help out with his son, Jason. But when he meets a man named Robin, his desperation gets the better of him and Luke starts robbing banks. Everything he does is for Jason even though Romina doesn’t ask for it. But because of this, he runs into trouble with the police.
Which is where Avery (Cooper) comes into play. The young police officer becomes involved with a group of crooked cops and to save his ass he winds up taking a deal and ratting them out. Avery also has a young son but most of his conflict is concentrated within the workforce of the police department and his struggle to uphold ethics and morals, something he’s familiar with being the son of a judge and a law school graduate.
Luke and Avery share a lot of common ground even though they’re at opposite ends of the spectrum. But their wives are the ones who are really stuck in the same situation. Played by Eva Mendes and Rose Byrne, both mothers are dealing with unfavorable dilemmas that are jeopardizing their children’s well-being and future. While the first two-thirds of the film unravel in completely different ways, the last third of the film comes full circle to the sons of Luke and Avery, who are now in high school.
In some ways, the third act loses the movie’s momentum because it has the task of dealing with two characters and wrapping the movie up in the end. While Dane DeHaan and Emory Cohen give solid, convincing performances, it’s really not them we know and care about. Nonetheless, they make plenty of bad decisions that lead them down a questionable path, but they can easily be let off the hook because they’re teenagers. They’re not the adults their fathers were whose bad decisions carried a lot more weight. They’re more reckless with a feeling of invincibility, especially AJ.
Performance-wise, Gosling and Cooper shine as two men on the opposite side of the law. Eva Mendes is fantastic as well, playing a mother torn between her past, present, and future. This is a film where you expect the worst to happen because the characters haven’t displayed much of anything else. Can one avoid the fate he’s certain to live? Or is his fate the product of his own decisions? Both AJ and Jason have that weighing down on their shoulders.