The small town of Schenectady near Albany in upstate New York is known as ˜The Place Beyond The Pines’ in Mohawk language. This is the setting for Derek Cianfrance’s new movie, the follow-up to 2010’s Blue Valentine, in which he again teams up with Ryan Gosling for a tale of fathers and sons, violence and consequences.
Gosling plays Luke, a motorcycle daredevil in a travelling show. When passing through Schenectady, he discovers that he is the father to a one-year-old son, the result of a fling with Romina (Eva Mendes), a waitress at a suburban coffee shop. Impulsively, he quits his jobs and stays in town when the show moves on, with an idea that he will somehow start providing for his son and become a part of his life.
Living in a trailer and doing odd jobs for mechanic Rob (played superbly by Ben Mendelsohn), and pulling in next to no money, Luke is persuaded to use his motorcycling skills to commit bank robberies “ and flying away from the scenes on his bike to evade the police. Before long, Luke is the Moto Bandit, a wanted criminal of some renown locally.
The focus then shifts to Avery Cross (Bradley Cooper) a local police officer, also father of an infant son, whose path crosses Luke’s in what is to be a fateful way. Avery is trying his best to be a good cop and provide for his young family. But he is burdened by the weight of expectations from his own father, a successful politician, who can’t understand why his law-schooled son is living the life of a beat cop. Further pressure is plied on him by the corruption he sees in the officers around him, and he has no idea whether or not to rock the boat. Cooper is extraordinarily good “ though he and Gosling are in few scenes together, it’s like they are having a private contest to steal the film.
There is a lot to admire in The Place Beyond The Pines. Cianfrance clearly has a real talent for drawing superb performances from his actors, as everyone involved is excellent. The cinematography from Sean Bobbitt, best known for his work with Steve McQueen such as Shame is also superb, his landscape making you nostalgic for a time and place you never knew. This creation of atmosphere is complemented by fantastic, evocative music.
There was always going to be a ˜but’ after that paragraph though. The third act of the film, which deals with fates of the two leads’ children and which I won’t discuss in detail for fear of spoilers, feels disconnected from what has gone before it, as well as feeling quite badly contrived. Attempting to cram this element in, thereby pulling together the strands of a family drama to give it epic proportions, feels misjudged. It also makes the film both too long and too short. It comes in at a patience and bladder testing 140 minutes, but at the same time, these last characters feel sketched in rather than fully drawn.
So The Place Beyond the Pines is a fine film, though one that suffers through its own over-ambition. But given the current state of Hollywood films, over-ambition is one of the most forgivable of sins.