After his mediation upon the utter failure and breakdown of a marital relationship in his debut feature length film, Blue Valentine, Derek Cianfrance returns to further ruminations on familial ties in The Place Beyond the Pines.
After returning to the town he had visited on tour the previous year, Luke Glanton (Ryan Gosling), a motorcycle stuntman, discovers that unbeknownst to him the fling he had indulged in with the local Romina (Eva Mendes) resulted in a son. Glanton immediately attempts to insert himself in Romina’s life, desirous of being a part of his son’s existence, choosing to disregard Romina’s current partner. In desperation, recognising that he needs to prove his ability to take care of both Romina and his son, he allows himself to be persuaded into robbing banks, a decision fated to impact long-term.
A film of three acts, Cianfrance continue to muse upon this father-son theme with Avery Cross (a fine Bradley Cooper) a young police officer whose decision in the line of duty and the subsequent impact, forces him to reconsider both his role on the force and the current trajectory of his life. Cianfrance finishes his epic generational narrative with two sons, whose lives are undeniably coloured by their sins of their fathers.
Stunningly shot, with numerous resplendent vistas, The Place Beyond the Pines is undeniably flawed, but its absolute heartfelt core allows it to overcome its imperfections. After seeing The Place Beyond the Pines, it’s not the slight blemishes that are remembered, but rather the sheer affecting scope of its ambition: reminiscent of Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life in both its focus upon the long-term familial impact of certain decisions and its philosophical cogitation upon the nature of man. Cianfrance deftly directs a narrative that for lesser directors may have proven to be unwieldy, and is rapidly proving himself to be somewhat of an auteur.
Gosling, once again winningly paired with Cianfrance’s direction, is beautifully subtle, utterly wretched in his earnest desires. Cooper, having proven himself in his Oscar nominated role in The Silver Linings Playbook, once again impresses here as the initially fresh-faced naive young officer who is quickly initiated into a corrupt world. The Place Beyond the Pines feels like a continuation of the themes first raised in Blue Valentine, forced to face the consequences of our decisions and actions, a central character desperately attempting to do what he believes to be both good and right. I look forward with anticipation to Cianfrance’s next effort.