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‘The Place Beyond the Pines’

by Kaori Shoji

Though religion is never an issue, the sins of the fathers is a theme that reverberates with biblical overtones in “The Place Beyond the Pines.” After his intense examination of a marriage gone sour in “Blue Valentine,” director/writer Derek Cianfrance teams up once again with actor Ryan Gosling to test two theories: 1) Blood is thicker than water. 2) Young men are a force of nature.

The film belongs to Gosling, though his appearance is limited to just one-third of the story. Gosling (or “The Gos” as he’s known in the U.S.) keeps you riveted, with the way his character Luke gets torn between his desire to be a good father and the ungovernable rages and urges of being a young man. Luke’s untamed male-ness comprises his dark mystique and at the same time sets him up for an inevitable downfall. Significantly, Gosling has almost no dialogue but his whole being speaks volumes.

Forming a neat contrast to Luke is Bradley Cooper’s Avery, who is basically one of life’s victorious chess players. Also a young father, Avery is a cop who can can spot a speck of danger from a mile away and knows how to avoid disaster as well as negotiate and maneuver to get the board working to his advantage. Avery is not a bad man; he may even be a good one. But he can’t mesmerize the way Luke does, mainly because in the modern world we run into Averys every day; we understand exactly where he’s coming from and where he’s headed next. With Luke, nothing is clear but an unquenchable thirst for freedom and his inherent discomfort with the trappings of modern life.

The Place Beyond the Pines
Rating
Director Derek Cianfrance
Run Time 140 minutes
Language English

The two men collide for a brief half-hour in Schenectady, New York, in the late 1990s, but in that time, their lives and the lives of their baby sons are altered forever.

The paternal pair could not be more different: Luke is a motorcycle stuntman, traveling with a carnival from state to state. Avery is an ambitious rookie cop with a law degree and a father who was district attorney. When Luke discovers that former lover Romina (Eva Mendes) has given birth to his baby son without him knowing anything about it, he decides to stick around and be a provider. But Luke doesn’t have a cent to his name, and besides, Romina is now with another man. Avery, for his part, comes home to a loving wife and baby in a nice suburban starter home — he hopes for great things in his career, and to be a hero in the eyes of his son.

In many ways Luke and Avery want the same things. But Luke has no plan, only a desperate conviction that he must lay his hands on some cash to support his family — and the best way to do that is to rob a string of local banks, aided by his skills on two wheels.

What culminates from all this is how sin and love and all that stuff have a way of leaving an indelible mark on the next generation, and how sooner or later that mark will reveal itself in unexpected (but not necessarily tragic) ways. The last scene is exhilarating: a boy gripping the handlebars of a motorcycle and riding off into a horizon lit by a rosy sunset. In that one moment, and in a way I won’t spoil, the spirit of fatherhood is triumphantly resurrected.

  • Jack

    Kaori Shoji is by far a great movie reviewer here. I often read her movie reviews when I come across them. I suppose she has a chance to see these movies secretly since non of us get to see them for months on end if they even come to Japan. One wonders why Kaori and other reviewers are privy to movies ordinary folks are not.