The Place Beyond the Pines is a reunion of sorts for actor Ryan Gosling and writer-director Derek Cianfrance. They last worked together on the beautifully haunting romance Blue Valentine and audiences expecting that kind of magnetism from their new venture will be sorely disappointed. It’s a different experience with moments of brilliance but at times it’s also frustrating and wildly uneven.
The film’s title refers to Schenectady, New York, the place where all three acts of this two-hour-plus film take place. Every act is anchored by a different male character, each transitioning into the next. The first and most rewarding segment follows Luke, a traveling motorcycle stunt rider who has come back to town after a year-long hiatus. His taste for thrills is quickly eradicated when he learns he now has a son from his tryst the year before. Young Jason may be new in Luke’s life but it’s enough to make him drop everything and settle down to be a good provider.
Money for a burned-out daredevil doesn’t come easy so with the help of newfound friend Robin (Ben Mendelsohn), a recipe for disaster is born. They will pair up on bank robberies that eventually keep raising the stakes and after one of these jobs goes incredibly awry we are thrown into the POV of rookie cop Avery Cross (Bradley Cooper) for act two.
Avery’s story is a disparate one as it follows our man in blue from the aftermath of the bank robbery to his commendation on the force, much to the chagrin of his family who would rather see him putting his law degree to better use. The rectitude of staying on the right side of the law is what fuels Avery’s story as he weighs the decision to stay on the job amidst police corruption or use his father’s contacts to land a different life instead.
The third act takes a huge leap in time and focuses on the now teenage sons of both Luke and Avery. They are Jason and AJ and their story is the most jarring and questionable of the trio. In this time frame, we see them as friends who attend the same high school and slowly learn the truth about each other’s past. The sins of the father come back to haunt them and when things come to a natural head the result lands with a bizarre sense of dissolution.
Cianfrance has stated that The Place Beyond the Pines has been a constant labor of love and it shows. Each story, while varying in quality, shows a confident voice steering the ship. The end result may not always be perfect but The Place Beyond the Pines tackles issues of morality and guilt in ways most films don’t even attempt anymore.
The Place Beyond the Pines was picked up by Focus Features for a release some time in 2013, and was screened at the 2012 Toronto International Film Festival.