A fascinating triptych with the man of the moment
The Place Beyond the Pines ( cert. 15) confirms Ryan Gosling’s place as moody man of the moment. Put him on a motorbike and it’s James Dean redivivus.
It is in effect three stories - writer-director Derek Cianfrance calls it a triptych. Luke Glanton (Gosling) is a stunt bike rider turning to crime, Avery Cross (Bradley Cooper) is the policeman who ends his career then gets involved in police corr uption, and the final chapter shows us how sins of the fathers can be visited on sons.
Luke rides the Ball of Death fairground show, and the annual schedule takes him back to the city of Schenectady, NY, and to Romina (Eva Mendes), now with his 3-monthold child Jason but living with Kofi (Mahershala Ali), who’s tr ying to be a dad to Jason. Luke quits the show to be near Romina and his son, but needs a job to support them as he promises.
Robin (Ben Mendelsohn) runs a car repair shop out of town and offers Luke work and a trailer to stay in, but also has experience of supplementing income by the occasional bank robbery. Luke, with what Robin calls his “skill set”, takes to this new line easily, but, against Robin’s advice, takes a gun.
It’s not the bank robberies that land him in jail, but an assault on Kofi as he intervenes too much in Romina’s domestic arrangements. Robin bails him out, but another robbery goes wrong, leading to a shoot-out with a cop who surely should have waited for backup.
The film then turns on whether that cop, Avery, injured in the incident, can get back to work. His superiors want to know what happened, his wife Jennifer (Rose Byrne) struggles with his attitude, and his colleagues involve him in a scam that compounds his unease.
His father (Harris Yulin), a retired judge, eventually pro- poses a way out of his dilemma, which works quite well, and gets him off the force and into judicial office. It still seems a fraught course for Avery then to try and build a political career on his status as hero and whistleblower.
Fifteen years later, he’s running for state attorney-general, but now he’s separated from Jennifer and their son AJ (Emory Cohen). AJ’s teenage rebellion brings him back into his father’s life – more than his father wants at this stage of the campaign.
Luke’s son Jason (Dane DeHaan) is the same age, and still wondering about what happened to his father. When he finds out, it makes for a dramatic ending, but one that leaves plenty of loose ends.
Gosling – well tattooed, including a Bible on the back of one hand – gives a simmering performance, while Coop- er’s cop turned politician manages not to evoke much sympathy. The bank robberies come across as authentic – Cianfrance had talked to perpetrators and victims, and in one scene ordinary customers and tellers play themselves – but the real menace comes from Ray Liotta as one of Avery’s older colleagues.
The title derives from the Mohawk origin of Schenectady, where the film is set and was largely shot. Mike Patton’s original music is often haunting, adding to the sense of impending doom of a story that may seem contrived, and long (2 hours 20 minutes), but is a fascinating construction, complete with elements of Greek tragedy - and a couple of good road chases.