In the first scene of the new drama The Place Beyond the Pines, the camera follows the character portrayed by Ryan Gosling along a route to his day job. The film isn’t judging the character’s actions but embracing them and seeing the world as he sees it, if only for a moment.
For approximately the next two hours and 20 minutes, viewers will watch fates unfold–in much the same way–over a series of several decades as we follow several characters down their chosen paths.
Directed by Derek Cianfrance (Blue Valentine), The Place Beyond the Pines is a film about fate and the decisions that ultimately lead to the lives people live. The main character at the beginning is the loner Luke (Ryan Gosling), who travels from town to town as part of a show. He has few attachments, but his life changes when he discovers that he’s fathered a one-year old son. He quits his job and aims to spend his life with Ramona (Eva Mendez), his son’s mother.
She’s dating someone else but seems to take comfort in Luke’s re-entrance in her world. The impatient Luke (wanting to form a family with her and their son) soon begins robbing banks to make some easy money. Eventually, Luke’s self-destructive lifestyle becomes intertwined with the fate of a young and seemingly-naive cop named Avery (Bradley Cooper). As the drama unfolds, the story becomes more complicated as the lives of the main characters quickly change.
Regardless, the story aims to be about more than a simple plot. It more about fathers and fate than anything else.
Luke’s life is immediately changed when he learns he’s a father. In seeking to settle down, he tries to become more responsible while at the same time losing his sense of decency. Avery is also a young father who makes some mistakes along the way, but his father is a prominent judge so the mistakes he makes are oftentimes swept under the rug by a father who knows how to use the political system to his advantage.
Eventually, over the years, Avery becomes more powerful as a local official, and when he’s given the chance to prevent his son from getting into trouble, he uses that power as if he was born with it. Other sons in the film aren’t so lucky.
From start to finish though, the director has crafted an ambitious and thought-provoking film with abeautiful score and some of the biggest narrative twists of the year. And to his great credit, the story creates complicated characters who are flawed from the outset. Many of them, through their various mistakes, are trying to do the right things by their sons. Some are rewarded and some are not. It’s mostly a matter of fate and circumstance, it seems.
For instance, there are two times when Avery’s character is driven to the woods to be injured and possibly killed. The first time he’s driven there is because he’s being threatened for doing the right thing; the second time he journeys there is as a punishment for doing the wrong thing. Both instances seem realistic. It’s no wonder then that characters like him make some of the decisions they do.
If doing the wrong thing can lead to the same fate as doing the right thing, isn’t it sometimes more expedient to do the wrong thing even if it means losing your soul in the process? Movies like this that address such questions should be applauded and appreciated for never settling for easy answers to such provocative questions.