The Place Beyond the Pines

The Place Beyond The Pines posterFocus Features (2013) 140 min. R

Director: Derek Cianfrance

Screenplay: Derek Cianfrance, Ben Coccio & Darius Marder

Cinematography: Sean Bobbitt

Editing: Jim Helton & Ron Patane

Production Design: Inbal Weinberg; Set Decoration: Jasmine E. Ballou

Costumes: Erin Benach; Score: Mike Patton

Stars: Ryan Gosling (Luke Glanton), Bradley Cooper (Avery Cross), Eva Mendes (Romina), Dane DeHaan (Jason), Emory Cohen (A.J.), Ben Mendelsohn (Robin), Ray Liotta (Deluca), Rose Byrne (Jennifer), Mahershala Ali (Kofi), Bruce Greenwood (Bill Killcullen), Harris Yulin (Al Cross)

Director Derek Cianfrance’s expansive examination of the father-son conflict as it plays out across two generations in the intersecting lives of a cop and a robber, sounds promising but turns out to be more ambitious than illuminating. Handsomely photographed by Sean Bobbitt, there are clear elements of classic Greek tragedy in this simple, modern dress drama strongly tempered by the hand of fate and pre-destiny. Which may explain why the unusual three-act structure that’s been applied by Cianfrance, along with co-screenwriters Ben Coccio and Darius Marder, seems to more legitimately belong to the theater than the screen.

PLACE BEYOND THE PINESWhile the clearly drawn lines of demarcation open up sociological parallels between the dovetailing plots, showing the cause and effect fallout of privilege and disadvantage, it also mercilessly exposes the movie’s stars, Ryan Gosling, Bradley Cooper and Dane DeHaan. Each time the torch is passed to the next member of the cast, the viewer has no choice but to begin subconsciously weighing the style, talent and screen presence of one against the other. So dramatically, The Place Beyond the Pines seems to become weaker and weaker as it rolls along its austere path. In the movie’s strongest section, Ryan Gosling plays Luke Glanton, a stunt motorcycle rider in a traveling fair who discovers that a casual one night stand in a town he blew though a year ago has left him the proud papa of a baby boy. The news changes him profoundly. He quits his itinerant carny existence and tries to reconnect with the mother, Romina (Eva Mendes), despite the fact that she’s involved with another man, Kofi (Mahershala Ali). Luke wants to raise his son himself, but with his limited skill set finds the only way he can provide for his family is by joining up with local mechanic Robin (Ben Mendelsohn) to rob banks, using his dexterity on motorcycles to make clean, quick getaways. 

PLACE BEYOND THE PINESThis places him on a collision course with Bradley Cooper’s rookie cop, Avery Cross, following one fateful, botched heist. A young father himself, Avery begins to identify with and forge an emotional bond with the criminal. In the film’s final twist of fate, Luke’s socially maladjusted son Jason (Dane DeHaan) and Avery’s resentful son A.J. (Emory Cohen) will cross paths as teenagers and, ignorant of their family legacy, become fast friends. No actor can better Gosling at soulful, slow burns, and he always seems to be slightly mocking his own work with that crooked, sardonic half-smile. He’s gone a trashy shade of platinum to play this sad sack loser with big dreams. He looks like Slim Shady, but the part has gifted Gosling with surefire, sad clown material, as indicated by the knife tattoo by his eye, which gives the appearance of a lonely teardrop. The actor previously worked with director Cianfrance on Blue Valentine, resulting in an astonishingly mature rendition of crushed romanticism. His work here is up to the same high standard; it may even be a great performance considering the short time he’s onscreen. Wearing a torn undershirt inside out and paint flecked jeans, this grease monkey conscientiously wipes his hands before picking up his baby for the first time, indicating that, despite his determination to prove a decent father, he feels unclean and hence unworthy of his new role. His inferiority complex becomes more evident when he asks Romina, an uneducated waitress herself, not to talk down to him.

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Gosling is in essence playing a variation on his excellent characterization in Drive, while attempting to expand upon it, to give it additional layers of meaning. He even dresses similarly in another trademark jacket, if one that more clearly recalls James Dean. As in Drive, Goslings’ race driver again senses a chance for some measure of spiritual redemption by forming a recombinant family with a single mother already involved in a shaky relationship with another man. When he remarks that Robin must get lonely living out in the boonies, he’s really talking about himself, for all the adulation he receives from fans on the circuit. Luke longs to settle down but sees his opportunity slipping away as he watches himself being replaced, his rightful role as husband and father usurped by Kofi who, in one of the movie’s more quaint ironies, happens to be black.

PLACE BEYOND THE PINESThe old racist fear of being replaced by a physically superior black man in the bedroom is exacerbated by having that same man serve as father to Luke’s child. And that name is likely intended as a pun, considering Kofi will later jokingly reference the Darth Vader line from The Empire Strikes Back, about being Skywalker’s real father. When this Luke breaks down watching his newly christened boy held in the hands of a black father figure, we seem to be getting at some intriguing, deep-set racial anxieties movies have never really raised before. But The Place Beyond the Pines is not the one to take us there, at least not beyond the superficial surface irony, which only cuts skin deep. The racial context is not an issue that is brought up, though it certainly seems to be the chief motivating factor behind that unprovoked sucker punch Luke throws Kofi. Or maybe I’ve just seen The Believer once too often. The director’s too wary to risk alienating the audience from his star by suggesting that the character’s hostility might be motivated by something more unsavory than the prospect of his son being raised by another man, that he rankles at the possibility that a black man might make a better father for him than he does himself. Yet the issue needs to be addressed at some level rather than simply ignored.

PBtP (120)We haven’t advanced so far as a society that it seems realistic for such things to just go unnoticed, especially after seeing the white cops’ dismissive treatment when they search Kofi’s house for contraband and hearing A.J.’s later, vaguely racist remarks after Jason is dropped off for school. As far as the audience is concerned, the situation just sits there like some big white elephant in the room, while being treated by the film as a non-issue. As in Drive, Gosling again plays a speed addicted adrenaline junkie whose seemingly placid exterior is punctuated by unexpected explosions of violence. His hair-trigger temperament frightens us as much as it does Romina so we can’t help agreeing when she hysterically tells him he’s crazy and orders him out of her life. While he might not have made such a great role model in the long run, even if he’d stuck around, Luke’s redeeming quality remains his transcendent love for his boy. It’s clear to us that he’d make a devoted father, since there’s nothing he wouldn’t do for his son. The baby even stops crying when he cradles him in his arms, making the father-son bond seem absolute.

As in Drive, Gosling again plays a dare-devil in the entertainment industry who finds a secondary career applying his stunt driving talent out on the real road as a getaway driver, becoming a wanted man for his involvement in these nefarious activities. Though Luke wears his motorcycle helmet to commit his crimes, when he places that kerchief over his mouth to paint his bike, he’s the image of a Wild West outlaw, Jesse James or Billy the PLACE BEYOND THE PINESKid, who were also depicted as Robin Hoods robbing the rich to give to the poor. Luke tells Romina that it’s his job to support his child, using his own unique skill set (which is robbing banks and riding hard), and that she should let him fill the function of breadwinner. He’s a family man who steals in a misguided attempt to give his son all the advantages he never had in life. While Gosling appears a tad too mellow and laid back for such a restless sort, his daring daylight robberies are meant to be an outlet for this hyped up speed demon’s nervous energy, something he doesn’t know what else to do with now that he’s quit the carny circuit. His piping voice cracking under the thrilling exhilaration stirred in him, he becomes hooked on the feeling, the endorphin rush. The excitement of these bank heists are addicting, so once he starts he can’t stop. Not even after Robin tries to save him from himself by dismantling his bike so he can’t use it in his getaways any more. Luke loves his bike the same way some men love their cars, and it’s actually this attempted good deed that does him in, since he’s not familiar with the new cycle he’s relying on for his final job, the way he was his old one.

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Handheld and dashboard police cruiser cams are used during the chase scenes, to give viewers the feeling that they are there, or at least as though they were tagging along on an episode of Cops. The first part of the movie is punctuated by these high-octane action sequences, their blood pumping impact accentuated by Bobbitt’s speeded-up, kinesthetic camerawork, such as during Luke and Robin’s initial encounter, as they narrowly navigate through the forest pines, admiring from afar the talents of the other. And later during the getaway rides, which take us along on Luke’s breakneck escapes, making the audience feel as though they were taking those spills right alongside him.

Following Channing Tatum’s unfortunate demise in Side EffectsThe Place Beyond the Pines is the second movie this year that’s committed the crime of bumping off a major actor mid-stream. And it remains shocking, even in our more jaded day. We still feel as if star billing somehow rendered one PLACE BEYOND THE PINESimpervious to all physical laws and onscreen dangers. If the movie’s own stars are to now be as vulnerable as mere bit players, then no one is safe. Though Gosling is killed off relatively early, he remains a lingering, poignant presence. His memory continues haunting The Place Beyond the Pines, even after the story shifts gears at the half mile marker, turning into Prince of the City for its second act. Gosling’s memory is apparently going to have to sate fans off-screen for a while as well, since the actor is threatening to pull a Soderbergh, announcing his intentions to step away from the biz for a time to try to gain a better perspective on life or something. This is unfortunate because Gosling has reached a point in his professional career when he seems to be thoroughly in the zone. He’s on the sort of winning streak that happens along all too rarely for performers, and never for a sustained period of time. Walking away from it all at this point is bound to break the spell, squandering some of the most productive years the actor has to offer.

Bradley Cooper’s arrival, like a guest cameo mid-film through, threatens to throw us out of the movie. Few actors have made such a spectacularly declamatory star entrance as this, but when his opening scene concludes with him being shot, we fear that his role may be over before it even begins. Cooper beat out Gosling for the coveted title of People magazine’s ‘Sexiest Man Alive’ a few years back, so a showdown like this between the two coverboys was probably inevitable. But the dividing line between his portion of the film and Gosling’s creates an unfortunate emotional schism.

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As the new star takes over the movie, audiences are forced to compare the talent of one against the other, same way People weighed their physical attributes, which could have been downright fatal for the film, especially since Cooper’s more clean-cut, wishy washy character is less compelling. He’s forced into an extraordinarily difficult position, trying to sustain the interest of an audience emotionally invested in the story he’s just brought to an abrupt end by killing off the main character. Hoping they won’t be resentful of the bait and switch, audiences are asked to completely reroute their interests. Cooper doesn’t manage to steal the film the way he stole Gosling’s too sexy title, but if he hadn’t been able to pick up the shards and continue forcefully carrying on, it could’ve been a complete debacle. Happily the actor has built up an enormous amount of goodwill with the public following his emergence as a major player in Silver Linings Playbook last year and the generosity carries him through, even if the movie seems to lose a good measure of momentum. PLACE BEYOND THE PINESThe actor looks younger and more boyish here (perhaps it’s the dorky crew cut or dearth of facial fur) and it’s impossible for audiences to really resent him for bringing the previous section to a close because he’s beating himself up worse than we possibly could. Avery bonds with Luke’s young father, the same way kidnap victims sometimes become attached to their abductors, and to compound matters, is persecuted by internal affairs for having botched the shooting by being too trigger happy. Grilled and given the third degree, we now begin identifying with the cop’s panic since his career hinges on trying to accurately recall an event that happened so fast we can’t even remember who shot first ourselves. He feels so bad about depriving Luke’s boy of a father (a fact which really hits home when he’s forced to cradle the infant in his arms as the cops search the crib for stashed funds), he can’t deal with his own son, pushing him away, punishing himself for what he did by erecting an emotional barrier between them. If Luke’s son must do without a father, according to Cross’ rationale, then his will as well. It’s Avery’s own cross to bear. But this will only serve to exacerbate their problems in the long run, since in large measure it’s his boy’s desperation to get the attention of his distant father, in good ways or bad (as he makes gloweringly clear when he disrespectfully dives into the pool in front of the campaign committee), that will foster the tragedy that plays out in the second generation.

PLACE BEYOND THE PINESJust as Gosling’s character seems an extension of the one he’d played in Drive, Cooper’s story likewise manages to pull in superficial elements from Silver Linings Playbook, as he’s again required to attend therapy sessions with the police department psychiatrist following the shooting. His strained relationship with his intimidating, larger than life father (Harris Yulin) also recalls his rocky relationship with Robert De Niro in the earlier film.  But similarities aside, I’ve never seen Cooper express such convincingly unforced rage onscreen as he does when staring down the barrel of a gun in the pinewood. Showing concern for A.J. for the first time, he’s more caught up in his inability to protect the son he’d spent his entire life ignoring, than his own safety. The tenuous link the script establishes between Luke and Avery in order to more smoothly toss the baton, is their joint love for their one year old sons, but other ties bind them as well. These can be both superficial, such as when Cross almost upchucks after escaping bad cop Ray Liotta’s ambush in the pines (a scene straight outta Goodfellas), same as Luke had after his dizzying escape from the police following his first robbery, and more elusive. Such as showing us how Luke is idolized by his fans and groupies, which is so similar to the way Cross will be in the press, after blowing him away.

PBtP (78a)During the bravura tracking shot that opens the film, we see the way the public responds to Luke’s cool as an ice cube professional motorcycle racer before we get to know him ourselves, and sense his insecurities and vulnerabilities. Cross’ introduction takes the opposite tact. We first see the rookie in full blown panic mode, in a state of sheer terror trying to singlehandedly apprehend the fleeing fugitive. Only later do we see him calm and collected before the press, or how the public responds to his death-defying feat. While one man is lionized as a hero, the other will ultimately be libeled a villain, though preceding events have shown us Luke’s finer qualities, same as Cross’ darker nature will subsequently assert itself. Though initially reticent, the young, high minded Cross will join the other racist, xenophobic cops on their search and seizure operation in pursuit of loot Luke absconded with. This cop feels so imprisoned (he’s shown behind chain link) by his lowly, unrewarding position as evidence room attendant, he’s not above lying (about who fired the first shot), blackmailing, stealing (he’s not morally superior to the man he killed), in order to improve his station and provide a cushy lifestyle for his own family. “You’re not gonna get that from the department,” he’s assured when handed a wad of illegally confiscated cash.

"The Place Beyond the Pines"Finding a photo of Luke in the impounded knapsack he’d carried around on his heists, Cross becomes obsessed with making restitution to his family, first through Romina and later Jason, in order to absolve his guilt over killing him. Initially he even tries to give back the blood money confiscated off the books, hoping that will clear his conscience. Yet when his attempt to make amends is rebuffed, he’ll instead use the funds as leverage to advance his own career, getting a more prestigious appointment by exposing the corruption within his precinct. Cooper’s character careens far too easily from wide-eyed innocent, disillusioned to learn that half the force is on the take, into an oily shark willing to screw over those who trust him for a shot at high political office. As Cross becomes as bad as the corrupt cops he wanted to bring down, there’s no attempt to smooth the psychological segue. He turns out to be much worse than thief Luke, upon whose death his career is built. Yet the gullible press foolishly continues painting Cross as a golden boy long after he’s tarnished his medal of honor in our eyes by capitalizing on positive PR to advance himself. We don’t blame Bruce Greenwood for refusing to shake Cross’ extended hand after being blackmailed into appointing him assistant D.A., since we have even less respect for him by that point. This dirty cop’s hands are filthy as far as we’re concerned, far more so than Luke’s, which we had seen conscientiously wiped clean.

PBtP (1)If The Place Beyond the Pines feels like an attempt at epic American myth making at times, it’s because the basic idea behind it is really a reworking of John Ford’s quintessential Western classic The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence. Only here, the bank robbing, Wild West outlaw rides a motorcycle instead of a horse and is treated as an essentially sympathetic figure whose actions are forgivable. While the law-abiding man who profits from shooting him, using his death as a stepping stone to high political office, is meant to be the thoroughly disreputable one. And it’s the lost second generation who serve as metaphorical forgotten man here, instead of John Wayne. While Jason unconsciously adopts the attributes of his absent father, through Cross’ relationship with his own domineering dad we see how the Cross sons are likewise locked into a predetermined fixed pattern. Cross’ attempt to go his own way by joining the police force rather than pursuing the career path of a politician planned for him by his parents, ends with him reluctantly accepting the error of his ways and striving to become the man his father wished him to be.

Cross’ own son A.J. (Emory Cohen occasionally channels a mopey young Johnny Depp around the time of 21 Jump Street) will engage in an even more pronounced form of rebellion, behaving as though he’d been raised on the wrong side of the tracks and tagging along on the campaign trail in PBtP (21)order to embarrass his well-heeled father with his flagrant lack of class. He seems to be looking to cause a scandal that will disgrace his hallowed name, ruining papa bear’s bid for public office. He wants to exact revenge on Avery as badly as Jason later will (their mutual hatred of the man bonds the two boys as surely as love for their sons linked the fathers), to get back at him out of spite for not having gotten enough affection in his youth. Avery pampers his prodigal son, overindulging him with money, drugs, permissive parties, everything but the love he needs. Cross dutifully tries to live up to the exacting expectations his father sets for him, as though his accomplishments were a reflection of good breeding (“I wouldn’t have expected anything less for my son.”). His own boy however finds that self destructively acting out in an unacceptable fashion is the only way of getting the attention of a father who, unlike Jason’s, may still be around but is so emotionally distant and distracted, he may as well not be.

Avery, who seemed like such a good guy at the beginning, ends up becoming the real villain of the piece, though he will make a final bid for absolution by asking Jason’s forgiveness. He comes to accept full responsibility for what the two boys have become, knowing it was his depriving both sons of a father’s guidance that was the root cause of it all. In a sense, The Place Beyond the Pines becomes a conservative, cautionary sermon on broken homes and the need for a strong male role model in young boys’ lives. As Luke points out when trying to convince Romina to take him back, “my father wasn’t in my life and look how I turned out.”

For a good long minute the film’s final chapter suggests it may evolve into a Gothic revenge fantasy along the lines of Wuthering Heights, with the second generation being martyred and forced to suffer for the sins of their fathers. And it sort of does, but in a way that’s more suggestive of a teenage Miller’s Crossing, with that long, slow death march through the woods, like a search for salvation at the point of an assassin’s gun. As Luke and Avery’s sons happen across one another in high school, ignorant of any past history there, the long arm of fate is stretched taut and Mike Patton’s standout score rises like a ghostly chorus to better punch up the irony.

Knowing nothing of the past, the boys don’t understand why they feel so drawn to one another, but they engage in a plethora of lingering glances signaling mutual attraction, romantic afterschool montages, sensuous showers with Cianfrance’s camera lingering at uncomfortable length over bare teen bodies, and somehow light on the topic of prison sex. All of which make the two seem headed for some emotionally devastating Romeo and Juliet like love affair that will reveal them to be fortune’s fools, or at least a sexually stimulating Murdεr by Num8ers style crime spree that will bond them more closely than Leopold and Loeb. It seems their liaison will serve to exorcise the mutual sins of their fathers and lay the painful past to rest for good and all, as did the interracial affair in Monster’s Ball.

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When he has a bean pulled on him, we expect A.J.’s macho façade to crack and for him to go all nelly on us, and he doesn’t disappoint, but for some strange reason the script diffidently sidesteps all the sexual insinuations it so carefully establishes. Still, it’s impossible not to get the suggestive drift when Cross corners his son, whose been locked up for a drug misdemeanor, and uses physical intimidation to let him know in no uncertain terms that Jason is off-limits (“You can have anything you want, but not him.”). Laying down limits for the first time in his life, he’s not going to let A.J. hurt the son of the man he’s already so wronged. Yet despite the suggestion of an unsavory PBtP (89)legacy there with other guys his son had similarly ‘had,’ we’re made to feel as though our initial assumption that there was more to this relationship than meets the eye, was simply perverted projection on our part. Just as Gosling plays off his Drive persona and Cooper pulls in elements from Silver Linings Playbook, Dane DeHaan (a dead ringer for the young Leo DiCaprio) revisits his own former triumph in last year’s finest super hero (super villain?) movie, Chronicle. He again plays an emotionally troubled loner who, despite his best intentions, devolves before our eyes into a destructive, slightly loco rebel without a cause, out to wreck vengeance on all those who have bullied and hurt him in the past. PBtP (41a)He doesn’t wield telekinetic powers in this one, like Sissy Spacek, but a well aimed gun works the same wonders. This kid is going to be a great actor one day, but here he’s left to bring up the tail end of the drama. So an unfair portion of the movie’s power rests on his shoulders, on his leaving a lingering, lasting impression. DeHaan manages to scrape by without disgracing himself, but the script’s weak resolution leaves him holding the bag for letting us down. Even without having known his real father, Jason still takes right after him, lifting meds from the local pharmacy same as Luke once robbed banks and making his getaway in suitably similar fashion, if on a bicycle rather than a motorbike. “You’re calling him back,” Robin appreciatively observes, and it does seem as though Luke were alive again in his boy, with Jason appropriating his father’s long ago discarded sunglasses along with PBtP (26)his other attributes. Pedaling around on his ten-speed in loping fashion, the living image of Luke, his gangling limbs working in uncanny, eerily graceful concert, he’s similarly transported by the speed, lost in a state of rapture. Buying the motorcycle Luke once characterized as being part of the family, Jason intends to head out west, presumably to take up his fallen father’s mantle and continue his barnstorming outlaw ways. He’s never been on the back of a bike before but he doesn’t need to be shown how to ride one; he was born in the saddle. In discovering who his father was, Jason appears to ‘find’ himself. Congenital thieving comes to him like second nature. It’s in his blood as much as riding that moped and toting a pistol. The script seems to be out to demonstrate that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. But that notion is too closely aligned with the theory of eugenics, predetermined, inherited personality traits (such as Jason’s predisposition to steal), to sit well with modern, more progressive mindsets. The script makes it seem as though Jason’s wild talent for riding and robbing were a genetic flaw inherited from his real father like hair and eye color. Finding out where he comes from just confirms his conviction that he’s a bad seed.

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Moreover the movie’s conception of nurture vs. nature seems all skewed since it’s not clear what we’re meant to make of Jason’s actions when he begins following in his father’s footsteps at the end. He doesn’t have the same excuse Luke earlier offered, about turning out no-good because his father had never been around. Raised by Kofi, who for all intents and purposes appears to be a law abiding pillar of the community, Jason had always had a positive male role model in his life. (Though I’m at a loss as to why the script depicts even this white kid as being totally down with the local drug pushers just because his father happens to be black).

Kofi delivers the standard speech about being Jason’s real father, since anyone can make a baby but only a real man would stick around to help raise one. But this doesn’t stop Jason from sensing that he doesn’t belong.  He feels self conscious and out of place in a PBtP (23)household where he’s the sole white family member, the odd man out. It’s obvious to him that there’s something off, so his yearning to discover his roots and who his people were makes perfect sense from a psychological perspective. And while Romina may have made that deathbed promise to Luke not to tell his son who he was, Kofi is willing to chance alienating Jason’s affections by revealing the name of his biological father. The Place Beyond the Pines is about the fundamental father-son bond and it makes the imprint of mothers seem to matter not a wit. This means two fine actresses in Eva Mendes and Rose Byrne are essentially wasted here. Eva, at least, manages some good moments as she’s warily torn between keeping up her defenses and allowing herself to be seduced again by the man who abandoned her once before, and is now trying to make amends. But the movie’s world seems strangely bereft of the feminine touch. Which is odd considering its theme is all about the conspicuous absence of fathers in their sons’ lives.

With its parallel case studies, the movie takes a stab at reversing the sociological stereotypes by depicting the sheltered rich kid as the bad influence, tempting the erstwhile poor one into juvenile delinquency. When A.J. PBtP (6a)whales away on his whipping boy at the party, they seem to be unconsciously replaying the same patterns their fathers had set before them. Only the hero-villain paradigm has shifted among the second generation. It’s now the cop’s son who leads the robber’s astray. Jason’s final theft is intended to reclaim his inheritance in a more thorough sense, washing from Avery’s hands the tainted blood money Luke had originally intended for him so long ago. By the end, both boys have stopped fighting for a sense of self, giving themselves over completely to their predestined genes. They accept the fate decreed for them, to live on opposite sides of the law, like the childhood pals of Manhattan Melodrama or Angels with Dirty Faces. Properly chastised, prodigal son A.J. no longer chafes at the pretense of playing his assigned role as dutiful son in front of the national press corps, falling into the conformist groove of all the Cross boys before him. While Jason, whose father had wanted to lay down roots and start a family, hightails it out west to become a rootless itinerant just as Luke was when we first met up with him, leaving the drama to wrap on this passing note of poetic irony.

In his previous collaboration with Ryan Gosling, Blue Valentine, Cianfrance had given us opposing, he said/she said interpretations of a disintegrating romance and the intriguing, three-act structure here shows an ongoing interest in experimenting with unconventional narrative arrangements. The Place Beyond the Pines was written for the screen but the complex sequence of events, with intersecting storylines and time-spanning, multi-generational drama seems lifted right out of a novel. Though the movie lacks a similar pedigree, its title has the same arboreal ring as other tony screen adaptations of austere literature, like Snow Falling on Cedars and White Oleander.

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Its last chapter possesses the same deadening portentousness as well, a false sense of ominous foreboding which turns out to be a lot of fatuous pretense, sound and fury signifying nothing much. Yet for all that, Cianfrance has a spellbinding talent for drawing viewers in and stringing them along, even for largely scenic trips like this. The journey is the thing, even when it ends up being less eventful than we originally anticipated. That steel globe Luke cycles around during his carnival act, with two other bikers, might be a metaphor for the unavoidable, three-pronged collision course fate has set all these characters on. It’s a small world, so they we’re bound to crash into one another sooner or later. 

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