Cast: Ryan Gosling, Eva Mendes, Anthony Angelo Pizza Jr., Bradley Cooper, Ray Liotta
In the space of two hours, The Place Beyond the Pines raises a few important questions: What does it take to be a good father? Does the absence of a father corrupt a child’s life, or does the disconnect between a child and his father produce the same results? This is the kind of deep subject matter that could result in a heavy handed movie or a brilliant one. I am happy to say that Pines is an emotionally affecting film, even though it loses a step or two along the way.
Pines is split into three parts, with each part taking up an entire act. The first act follows Luke Glanton (Ryan Gosling), a tatted up, meandering motorcyclist whose primary source of income depends on pulling death defying stunts at the county fair. Before moving on, he is approached by an old flame, Romina, who carries herself in a nervous and cryptic fashion. It’s not until Luke discovers that he is the father of her son that his paternal instincts start to kick in. Not wanting to be damned to a minimum wage existence and inspired by the possibility of providing for his family, Luke is encouraged by a friend to rob banks. Unfortunately, Luke’s actions trigger a confrontation with Avery Cross (Bradley Cooper), an idealistic cop. What follows changes everything.
This film marks the second time Derek Cianfrance has tackled a story where redemption and hopelessness go hand-in-hand. This movie is not as depressing as Blue Valentine, but it’s just as haunting. The first act (inarguably the best) has the difficult task of setting the rest of the movie into motion, but it’s really solid.
At this point, Ryan Gosling is one of the finest actors around because he has the unique ability of expressing himself without saying a word. The character of Luke faintly meshes with Gosling’s performance in Drive, but he plays Luke in a lot of different ways. He’s more lonely, desperate, and tortured than The Driver, and although you may not cheer him on at times, you’ll understand why Luke does the things he does.
Gosling carries the beginning of the story, almost to the point where you might tune out the acts that follow, but Bradley Cooper manages to fill in the void quite nicely. The mood and tone of Avery Cross’ narrative is distinctly different from Luke’s. However, his inner turmoil is just as compelling for different reasons.
The third act follows a pair of troubled teenagers that are forced to confront their fathers’ legacy. Even though it lacks intensity, the story becomes increasingly tragic as it progresses. I thought it was a great way to bring the movie full circle while conveying the overall message that the world is confusing and unforgiving, no matter how heroic or misguided you are.
In conclusion, Pines is not the kind of movie you’ll want to watch again and again. It’s an outstanding drama that becomes more powerful if watched during a critical juncture in one’s life. A person’s relationship with his/her father is one of the most important relationships that anyone can have. Pines makes a profound statement about how our own fathers impact our lives, and how we try to distance ourselves, even when we yearn for closeness. If it’s playing at your local theater, give it a looksee and draw your own conclusions. I hope it speaks to you the same way it spoke to me.