Writer-director Derek Cianfrance’s (‘Blue Valentine’) thought-provoking drama of male-driven consequences in ‘The Place Beyond The Pines’ is a decent meditation on angst-ridden men – particularly fathers and sons – and the responsibilities that shapes their complicated relationships and unassuming existences. It is an ambitious juggling act that Cianfrance maintains poignantly throughout most of the film. However, ‘The Place Beyond The Pines’ does occasionally stall turning the movie’s checkered moody momentum into an intermittent, disjointed morality play. Still, Cianfrance enthusiastically manages to assemble a potent cast of hopeful broken-down characters rich in wayward dreams and mounting disappointments.
The understated brilliance of lead Ryan Gosling (Cianfrance’s soul-searching protagonist from the aforementioned ‘Blue Valentine’) is once again on artistic display as conflicted bleach blonde-haired, tattooed Luke, who works as a motorcycle stunt driver with a traveling carnival. Along with Cianfrance, co-screenwriters Ben Coccio and Darius Marder delve into the complexity of aimless Luke – a drifter that basically has nothing more to offer than the skimpy shirt off of his impoverished back. Luke is a Nowhere Man in need of direction that his daredevil bike can never quite symbolically route out for him.
Luke is a tortured soul, a millennium-inspired James Dean rebel without any particular cause other than quick female dalliances and another scheduled revved up riding gig awaiting his latest challenge. Things will become quite sticky for Luke when a blast from the past approaches him in the form of waitress Romina (Eva Mendes), a former lover from yesteryear in the 90s that has a shocking revelation in store for the roving carny cad. Romina delivers the surprising news that Luke is the father of her child, a result of their Schenectady sensual hook-up years before. Suddenly, Luke gravitates to the concept of fatherhood while finding an inescapable romantic attachment to the barely familiar Romina whose affection is promised to someone else at the moment.
The reality settles in for Luke that his meager bike-riding duties is not enough to support his newly discovered son as he must provide for Romina if he is ever to have a legitimate shot at piercing her romantic heart. The quick solution to solving this pending problem is turning to a life of crime, in this case robbing banks with a riff raffish associate Robin (Ben Mendelsohn). Luke’s larcenous ways has fueled his fatherly consciousness and commitment that begs the question: what must be done to secure the uncertain future of my child’s welfare?
Luke’s convenient criminality leads us to another wounded man forced to lick his wounds and confront his domestic demons as well. Avery Cross (Bradley Cooper, ‘Silver Linings Playbook’) is a psychologically divided rookie cop on the trail of Luke’s law-breaking tendencies. A former lawyer turned law enforcer Avery is saddled with his own heft of quiet outrage and weariness. Existing among corruptible colleagues (as led by the menacing Ray Liotta) at the police department while wallowing in the enormous professional shadows of his prominent ex-judge father (Harris Yulin), Avery is a walking wreck as he tries to negotiate his self-worth amongst the daily madness. Plus, what will become of Avery’s own disillusioned teen son…a confused chip off the old block that yearns for structure and parental approval?
In fact, fifteen years into the future both Luke’s and Avery’s sons (Dane DeHaan and Emory Cohen) will cross paths as the harried high school boys carrying on the tradition of uncertainty, missing truths and the quest to make some distinctive marks independent of their fathers’ chaotic legacies.
‘The Place Beyond The Pines’ sets in motion the collision course for masculine fodder that touches upon the contemplation of heroism, economic anxiety, moral obligation, elusive self-respect and redemptive resolution. Cianfrance’s filmmaking technique tugs at the heralded heartstrings in exploring the wretched stagnation of male pride and dignity. The sacred self-defining bonding between fathers and sons creates an intoxicating examination on masculine identity crisis. Stylishly shot, ‘Pines’ invites a sense of an escapist utopia where the cosy setting brandishes an aura of psychological scope and mystique.
The probing and contemplative performances, particularly Gosling’s soulful stunt rider and a touching melodic turn by Mendes, is what redeems ‘Pines’ of its sometimes problematic shifting in spotty dramatic overtones. The busy-minded material sometimes feels stuffed in the quaint confines of Cianfrance’s absorbing narrative but the sentiment resonates effectively.
Nevertheless, Cianfrance’s ‘Pines’ is thoughtful, transfixing and a solid study on the skepticism of reinventing ourselves regardless for whatever price we must pay for our indelible fate to be unleashed.
The Place Beyond the Pines (2013)
2 hr. 18 mins.
Starring: Ryan Gosling, Bradley Cooper, Eva Mendes, Ray Liotta, Ben Mendelsohn, Rose Byrne, Harris Yulin, Emory Cohen and Dane DeHaan
Directed by: Derek Cianfrance
MPAA Rating: R
Critic’s rating: ** 1/2 stars (out of 4 stars).