Director: Derek Cianfrance
Cast: Ryan Gosling, Bradley Cooper, Eva Mendes, Ben Mendelsohn
Running Time: 140 minutes
Release Date: April 12
Warning: This is not really a movie about Ryan Gosling robbing banks. That happens, yes, but this is a film about masculinity, fatherhood, success and, much like Blue Valentine before it, is a way for Derek Cianfrance to explore what America has created, this time in examining what it means to be a man and a father in the land of the free.
Handsome Luke (Gosling) never knew his father, so it’s essential that when a fling from his last stop in Schenectady (a location whose literal translation gives the film its title) shows him his baby, he look after it. Like Bradley Cooper’s clear-eyed cop, this very American bad-ass is an exploration of a cliché, rather than an embodiment of one. Luke is a violent, unpredictable man with no real idea how to do anything except ride motorbikes. Robin, a filthy mechanic impressed by this skill, first gives him a job and later convinces him that his very unique skill set could very easily be translated to robbing banks. Luke’s more of an idiot than a sociopath, but he needs money to provide for his newly discovered son and baby-mama, Romina (Mendes), and after an incredibly exciting robbery sequence the initial narrative is established, not that Cianfrance is concerned much with the plot.
Unfortunately Luke is stupid and impetuous, and that’s rarely a mix conducive to restraint or success. Enter the all-American Avery Cross (Cooper), chasing down Luke after a spectacularly fucked up attempt at robbing a bank. Thus begins the second part of the story, following Avery’s own fatherhood/success issues. Avery’s father is a powerful judge, so it’s important to him that he go it on his own and prove he doesn’t need his old man’s backing. Despite this seeming like the right way to go, he’s blocked at every turn when he tries to do the right thing, and as a result, all his achievements are of dubious origins. Cooper’s performance is pretty good in its own right, but casting him as the face of this very questionable but very American success is pretty genius. From his beaming smile to his lantern jaw, down to his actual name, Bradley Charles Cooper looks and sounds like a man running for election, and grubbying him up a bit is excellent purely in its implications.
The final part of the narrative takes place after a long time skip, and concerns Luke and Avery’s sons, Jason (Dane DeHaan) and AJ (Emory Cohen). While the way they encounter one another is a bit of a stretch, DeHaan and Cohen are absolutely incredible, one scruffy and endearing, the other affected and entitled. The state of their lives is presented as a direct consequence of what has happened to their fathers. It’s subtly done, and presented with sadness and anger both; this is how they (we) got here, though it’s not clear what Cianfrance sees as the way to avoid this continuing.
Complementing the film’s thematic clockwork is some beautiful cinematography; mixing close in, faux-documentary shots with long, elegiac shots of wild, untamed loneliness.
The Place Beyond the Pines is an incredible film, and one that will stay with you for some time. It also has a decent amount of topless Gosling, if you like that sort of thing.