Amid Derek Cianfrance’s unveiling feature-length film, Blue Valentine, an exceptionally personal portrayal of a decaying relationship was shown in unwavering detail. The result was one of the best films of that year, with its two front actors delivering powerhouse performances, resulting in an Academy Award nomination for actress Michelle Williams.
The Place Beyond the Pines has crafted a more ambitious, expectation-defying epic about the tie between a father and his son. In what seems like an intimate film, the score and Sean Bobbitt’s mix of claustrophobic and vast shots creates a sentiment of something grand happening, something that spans generations, but only cares about a handful of individuals and how their lives traverse.
Due to the creative nature of the film, and how immense in scope it is, there is really no main character. On first viewing and experience one would assume Gosling’s character is that of the protagonist, yet not even 40 minutes into the film (a scene between Gosling and Cooper) we as the viewer are spun for shock and left in bewilderment as to how the story will progress from this mini-climax.
There are two stories which help craft the final act of The Place Beyond the Pines. The first of these focuses on Luke (Ryan Gosling), a motorcycle driver and drifter, who discovers he has fathered a son. We have seen Mr. Gosling play this character type before — a la Drive most notably: The reluctant hero/anti-hero and new guy in town (stunt driver) looking to survive, who drives a bad-ass vehicle (gets a mechanic job at a local shop/does crime on the side). So, as far as casting goes for this film, Ryan Gosling was the best choice to play Luke, since Luke and Driver could be mistaken for brothers or even twins. Trying to be better than his own father, who left him at a adolescent age, Luke decides to be there for his son and support him. Unfortunately, the way he goes about doing this is utilizing his skills as a stunt driver to rob banks — the scenes are actually quite intense and very well acted.
The second story follows Bradley Cooper’s character, Avery Cross, who is a rookie cop with a father that is deep into the political scene. Avery also has a son, and lets his job consume him, keeping him from being the caring, attentive father he needs to be. Both of these stories culminate into a 15 year fast-forward when the audience sees how Luke and Avery’s characters have impacted their own children.
The narrative essentially defies the idea of the main character of The Place Beyond the Pines being a person. Instead, it is the father and son relationship which is put under a microscope and fleshed out, that acts as the main character to the film. In addition, the film also shows that it doesn’t matter if your dad is a drifter/bank robber or a cop with a badge, fathers will ultimately do whatever it takes to ensure the survival of their lineage; even if this is at the expensive of what society deems “unlawful”. When the labels come off: the masks, the gun belts and the badges; we are all the same, and are susceptible to choosing to do what may be “wrong,” in order to do what is right. The movie to me is essentially a Father’s Day gift waiting to happen and in my opinion a film for such an occasion.
One of the other more interesting aspects of the film is the way it is written, defying any narrative expectations. This film follows a strict sequential order and each account very rarely intersects with one another. We spend our time with each character, getting to know him inside and out, discovering every trait, flaw and attribute until we have gotten just enough out of them to move onto the next character. The significant thing is not the characters, but how those characters have either been impacted by their father and/or how they impact their son. In this way, The Place Beyond the Pines is a stunning achievement of how to tell a story. It relies heavily on modest details that come out from each character, over the time we are with them, and just how those attach to the characterizations of themselves.
Overall, it’s hard to complain about The Place Beyond the Pines because every piece feels so necessary, even with an extensive run-time.