Who’s in it? Ryan Gosling (Luke Glanton), Bradley Cooper (Avery Cross), Eva Mendes (Romina), Dane DeHaan (Jason), Emory Cohen (AJ), Rose Byrne (Jennifer), Ray Liotta (Deluca)
What’s it about? Luke is a not-too-bright, tattooed-to-here drifter who makes a living performing dangerous motorcycle stunts for traveling fairs. He’s a loner who’s never in one place for too long, which is why he has no idea that his fling with Schenectady waitress Romina resulted in a child. But he finds out when he passes through town again, and the realization that he’s the father of a baby boy brings forth overwhelming feelings of guilt and responsibility.
Because of the “not too bright” part I mentioned earlier, Luke chooses to turn his riding skills into getaway skills and starts robbing banks in order to provide for his son. All this despite the fact that Romina made it clear she didn’t actually need any help and is happy with her new man.
After one of his particularly daring and not-well-thought-out robberies, Luke is pursued by local cop Avery Cross, whose career arc becomes the focus of the second chapter of the film. Like Luke, Avery also has an infant son, and attempts to follow a righteous path at work in order make up for past on-the-job mistakes. The final part of the movie focuses on what’s become of both boys (Luke’s son Jason and Avery’s son AJ) fifteen years down the road.
What’s good? Gosling – as ridiculous as he looks with his bleach-blond hair and goofy tattoos (seriously, try to catch as many of them as you can – they are nuts – especially the one ON HIS FACE) and godawful outfits (inside-out t-shirts and pleather, patterned pants) – is far and away the best thing about The Place Beyond the Pines. He makes it easy to believe that someone like Luke would think the best way to be a man and provide for his family would be to recklessly turn to a life of crime. But at the same time you almost don’t fault him for his short-sighted actions, or any of the other weird things he does to prove his love, because he leaves no doubt that his heart is in the right place.
DeHaan (Chronicle) and newcomer Emory Cohen are also excellent, with the former easily conveying Luke’s same smoldering darkness, and the latter coming off as the white-trash-gangsta version of Gossip Girl‘s Chuck Bass as he attempts to rebel against his squeaky-clean father’s public image.
What could’ve been better? Cooper, on the other hand, seemed miscast and unable to disappear into his role. I could never quite buy him at any stage of his character’s progression, nor could I understood what motivated Avery’s decisions over the course of time. Though that last issue might not be Cooper’s fault so much as it is the writers’ (Cianfrance, Ben Coccio, Darius Marder). While everything about Luke’s piece of the story made sense, once the narrative turned to Avery and then to the boys, it seemed like the writers just wanted to cram a heavy-handed “sins of the father” lesson in no matter what, and what transpired became increasingly far-fetched in order to support that theme. I also could’ve done without the shaky-cam sequences during some of Luke’s rides and the climactic Luke/Avery chase.
The bottom line: Despite its flaws, The Place Beyond the Pines is sure to make you think about the effect fathers can have on their sons, no matter how much time they actually spend together. But you might not agree with the answer the movie so tidily and conveniently serves up.
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