“The Place Beyond The Pines” is the first truly outstanding movie of 2013…just squeezing in before the onslaught of the blockbusters. This is a three-part story that all centers around an explosive confrontation between drifter Luke (a quietly convincing Ryan Gosling) and the steady good cop Avery Cross (Bradley Cooper).
We initially follow the narrative of Luke, a motorcycle stunt-man who is shocked into a sense of responsibility when he discovers that a casual relationship he’d had with Romina (Eva Mendes playing down her attractiveness, as a woman struggling to make something of herself) has resulted in a son.
Suddenly he realizes that his life has shifted from that of feckless drifter to father, with the demands that this new responsibility brings. With no other moral compass to act as a guide, Luke interprets fatherhood simply as the need to provide ‘things’ – a cot, various toys and trinkets. And herein lies his own test of character: his nobler instincts to live up to a sense of parental duty drives him to a course of action that is, sadly, determined by his darker, amoral side. Egged on by Robin (Ben Mendelsohn), his evil angel, he uses his motorcycling skills to turn to bank robbing. He cannot escape his drifter past, even if he tried.
The story suggests the kind of inevitability ahead of him (“if you ride like lightening”, Robin tells him, “you’ll crash like thunder”). It becomes distressingly clear that Luke’s life and character are formed of such stuff that no desire to rise to a higher realm of ‘responsible parent’ can trump the fate that his drifter soul has mapped out for him.
Character is fate.
If Luke is shocked into a sense of responsibility his past cannot live up to, Avery Cooper’s past on the other hand, forged by his strong relationship with his father, gives him a deep sense of resolve and a clear conscience-driven perspective.
Whereas Luke chooses the easier way of crime – the short-term, instant gratification of quick money, Avery is forced to confront crime, even as he becomes part of it. He finds himself briefly immersed in a corrupt scheme master-minded by the brilliant Ray Liotta (as crooked cop DeLucca). And it is up to his need to do the right thing that pits him against pretty much all his friends on the force. Avery, driven by a strong sense of guilt, has to fight his way beyond the corrupting influence of his clan to the place, as it were beyond the pines.
This is not to suggest that Avery is the unblemished goodie to Luke’s compromised baddie. Avery himself manages to do what’s right despite his own lust for power and influence. Luke wanted to cash; Avery wants the influence.
The third part of this trilogy concludes the balance between responsibility, conscience and parenthood when we meet their two children, now troubled teenagers, preparing to confront their own high noon showdown.
Mike Patton’s vibrant score adds to the operatic feel of this film; lends it the kind of gravitas Derek Cianfarance’s (who also directed “Blue Valentine”) directing and Ben Coccio’s and Darius Marder’s writing, deserves. Though Gosling, Evan Mendes and Bradley Cooper are the key protagonists in the drama, there really is a wonderful supporting cast that help lend the movie enormous stature and tremendous felt-life credibility.