The Place Beyond the Pines

Derek Cianfrance performed exceptionally well, capturing bleakness and moments of pure joy and romanticism in Blue Valentine, one of Gosling’s recent ‘serious’ roles. They were reunited in Cianfrance’s third feature The Place Beyond the Pines. This time the focus is on relationships between fathers, sons, criminals and the law all overseen by questions and exploration of fate and American culture. The Place Beyond the Pines is split into three distinct ‘acts’. Each one offering a deeper exploration of our main characters; Luke, a stunt motorcyclist who turns to robbing banks to support his newly discovered son. Avery, a well-meaning moral cop who gets tangled up in Luke’s criminal activities. Jason, Luke’s reserved son and AJ, Avery’s wayward son.

One of Cianfrance’s particularly notable abilities is displaying gloriously moments of human wonder. Beautiful moments we are familiar with, family photographs, spending time with your children and loved ones, moments we all take for granted and displaying them along side moments of human disasters. Marital abuse, crime, family disintegration. Again moments we are all unfortunately familiar with. This is at play in Beyond the Pines, only this time it’s covered by a veil of Avery’s all American success story.

Capturing family intimacy that we are all familiar with

Capturing family intimacy that we are all familiar with

Police corruption isn’t new in cinema, but what particularly struck me was the display of police corruption so blatantly taking place in both police departments and criminals homes. In the years since 9/11, public service workers have on the whole been shown to be good, rising above the corruption, and whilst Avery does, the link between the police and politics is made so explicitly clear.

Both Luke and Avery present very different views of the masculine American dream and as the story progresses it’s clear to see the line between the two is not as distinct as it once was. Luke represents the men that America would like to forget, the lower uneducated class, the men who spawn children through casual relationships and consequently unaware of their existence. The men who don’t marry, the men who do unskilled dangerous jobs. Avery represents the celebrated hardworking hero, the man America is proud of, but Cianfrance scratches beneath this shiny plastic veneer to discover a man who is just as problematic as his forgotten counterpart. Nothing in Beyond the Pines is clear cut, both characters are complex, neither one representing good or bad which is probably a far more accurate representation of humanity than caricatures of ‘moral’ and ‘evil’.

Bradley Cooper as Avery - a well meaning cop who is dragged reluctantly into the role of hero and subsequently corruption in the police force

Bradley Cooper as Avery – a well meaning cop who is dragged reluctantly into the role of hero and subsequently corruption in the police force

Having said this, Beyond the Pines falls down slightly in the ‘third act’, the story between Avery and Luke’s sons. The story seemed slightly predictable and devoid of the previously displayed complexities. Maybe this was intentional, maybe the simplicity of obviousness of their story was supposed to represent the more explicit themes of masculine displays. AJ is arguably a representation of the obnoxious American teen, performing to his friends via drinking, drug taking and promiscuity. Jason is an outsider, a bit odd and withdrawn. But both play to the stereotypes of their character and the ending is predictable and slightly flat. The problem is that AJ is a hugely unlikeable character, I felt no sympathy for him and actually felt that Jason should be the celebrated vision of masculinity. To me AJ represents everything that is wrong with youthful masculinity. Jason is pushed out and forced into following in his father’s footsteps, although the final scenes leave open the possibility of hope for Jason, that he wont be lead down a path of crime.

AJ and Jason - two very different boys from two men whose lives are inherently entwined

AJ and Jason – two very different boys from two men whose lives are inherently entwined

The Place Beyond the Pines is a masterful vision of modern America but I definitely think that some story telling and character development, particularly Avery’s transition into politics which seemingly comes from nowhere, is neglected at the expense of repetitive scenes between Luke and Jason’s mother. Nethertheless I’d highly recommend Beyond the Pines. If you liked Blue Valentine, you’ll like this, maybe just not as much, but it’s an impressive addition to the resumes of Cooper, Gosling and Cianfrance.

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