I am attracted to films that allow me to enter lives and sub-cultures that often are chilling, alarming and at the same time perversely compelling. I am able to penetrate worlds that I do not inhabit, but am afforded a glimpse into a cloudy window of human despair and joy. Therein lies the fascination and I am able to do this in the refuge of a darkened theater. The director Derek Cianfrance’s new movie The Place Beyond the Pines is an ambitious attempt, but not a wholly successful one, to address what I felt was a profane “reckoning.” Coincidence and “karma” are underscored in this multi-generational film of fathers and sons; the tragic deeds– even in the act of extreme confusion and good intentions - will be handed down upon their sons.
An electric Ryan Gosling plays Luke a motorcycle “drifter” whose actions in an attempt to behave responsibly and to monetarily support a one-year-old son, the existence of which he recently became aware of, and the ensuing consequences of his reckless exploits, evolves into the narrative groundwork that weaves throughout this film. Not only is Luke’s appearance frightening– tattooed to the hilt, living an aimless life on the precipice - he nevertheless, through the emotions perceptible in his facial expressions, is able to elicit our sympathy with a humanity that belies his outward veneer. Ryan Gosling is an actor that is so riveting that he takes over every scene; his presence sucks the life out of most other performers, though Ben Mendelsohn as his accomplice, a fellow ‘outcast”, is clearly up to the task and does not disappoint.
The story contrasts Luke the “outlaw” with a young, idealistic policeman Avery, played by Bradley Cooper, also with a young son, who eventually “hunts” the "vagabond" down. Cooper does not have the interior girth to make me care about him, but soon he becomes the crux of the film - which I found to be a weakness - fighting corruption and tapping into his own appetites for success and eventually participating in the political arena. Guilt, regret and the past are the haunting motifs of the rest of the movie. Fifteen years later, we see the consequences of these emotions on the two protagonists’ young sons as they grow up and eventually meet up and collide in High School where the drama from years ago explodes anew.
The circle is completed.