At its core, The Place Beyond the Pines is a tale of fathers and sons. It’s about how the actions of the father affect the son and ultimately how he son eventually comes full circle incorporating a lot of who the father was into who he is. With award-worthy performances from Ryan Gosling and Bradley Cooper, this two hour and twenty minute film sometimes meanders but redeems itself in the end. It’s a movie that stays with you.
In the beginning, Luke (Ryan Gosling) is a carnival worker whose act involves motorcycling in a circular cube. As he travels from city to city, he has his share of hook-ups with the local ladies. One such connection comes in the form of Romina (Eva Mendes). When he returns to her town the following year, he’s surprised to find that she’s had a baby, his baby. This is a game-changer for Luke and he vows to be the father he never had. Immediately he quits the circus. Yet he doesn’t make the money to support himself, not to mention a child.
When his friend and landlord, Robin (Ben Mendelsohn) suggests they rob a bank, Luke initially balks. However, he realizes that he isn’t much good at anything else and the pair set off to make some fast cash. All goes well until Luke gets a little too cocky. After a botched robbery and a high speed chase, he ends up trapped in a house. Enter patrolman and father of his own one-year old, Avery (Bradley Cooper). The two have a showdown that ends up making Avery’s career.
Soon, the privileged son of a judge and law school graduate is making a name for himself as an assistant district attorney. Years pass and as his career climbs, both boys get older. The film’s final act show the boys as teens on the cusp of manhood.
Director and co-writer Derek Cianfrance paces his movie slowly and takes time to let it evolve. This is both a good and a bad thing. We have the time to see the characters develop – which is awesome given the caliber of the performances. Gosling especially embodies the intensity and the desperation of a man who wants to be better but doesn’t know how to go about it. For his part, Cooper’s character doesn’t have the same intensity but he has the thoughtfulness and ambition that a man like his character would require. While not as flashy, he gives a very solid performance.
Both Dane DeHaan and Emory Cohen, who play the teenage sons of Luke and Avery also give genuine performances.
However, there are lulls and moments when the pace seems too slow. The film is long, but in retrospect, it isn’t a case where I could see where it was indulgent. It is long because it has to be to tell the story it’s telling fully. The film has a lot to say and none of it can be said quickly.