Movie Review: The Place Beyond the Pines

Movie Review: The Place Beyond the Pines

A hard but worthwhile watch

By Mark HadleyWednesday 8 May 2013MoviesReading Time: 3 minutes

Iron Man 3 may be packing the cinemas but there’s another story in town well worth the attention about a much more day-to-day hero. Ryan Gosling and Bradley Cooper star as fathers from two different sides of the tracks who battle the same temptations in seeking a way forward in a corrupt world.

The Place Beyond The Pines reviewed by Mark Hadley

Rating: M
Distributor: Roadshow 
Release Date: May 9

The Place Beyond The Pines opens with a view of Ryan Gosling’s back that holds for almost three minutes as he leads us into the fringe world of the carnival worker. He plays Luke Glanton, a gifted stunt motorcyclist in a flea-bitten circus, whose days are a string of almost careless encounters with death. His chain-smoking, cheap tattoos and ‘Ride The Lightning’ Metallica t-shirt say it all: a man whose search for fulfillment has taken him into all manner of experiences but left him looking for something more. That ‘something’ arrives in the form of his girlfriend Romina (Eva Mendes), who stops by to relive old times and through whom he learns he has a son. Luke instinctively knows like every father that, for good or ill, he will direct the course of someone else’s life. “It’s my son and I want to be around him,” he tells Romina. “My father wasn’t around and look how I turned out.” 

Earning a place in Romina and his son’s lives means showing he can provide more than a shiftless carney’s existence. So Luke leaves the circus and sets out to walk the straight and narrow, but when the cash isn’t forthcoming he decides to use his motorcycle skills to rob banks. His increasingly desperate efforts soon bring him into contact with Avery Cross, a junior police officer who is seeking to provide for his family through law enforcement. Both have young boys, and both are faced with the same moral dilemma: what scruples are worth setting aside for the sake of success?

The Place Beyond The Pines is a translation of the Mohawk name ‘Schenectady’, the New York state city in which this twin moral battle is set. Its bleak, post-American-dream streets are a fitting setting for Luke’s hopelessness and Avery’s increasing collusion with a corrupt police force. It’s not long before the police officer begins to suspect that he’s not so different from the ‘Moto Bandit’ and the God-like perspective afforded the viewer reveals that, however good the motive, their moral contortions will distort the lives of both their sons. 

The Place Beyond The Pines is an artistically executed American tale that reminds me of Mystic River and Road To Perdition. Australia’s Ben Mendelsohn gives Luke what passes for the film’s moral: “You know if you ride like lightning you’re going to crash like thunder.” Moses’ words were just as memorable when he reminded warned the tribes of Israel against evading their responsibilities:

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 “But if you fail to do this, you will be sinning against the Lord; and you may be sure that your sin will find you out.”  

As The Place Beyond The Pines shows, judgment doesn’t have to fall publicly for us to feel the weight of our sins. Decades may pass but we still remember our greatest failures with painful clarity. Not all the success in the world will help us bury them, and no amount of community approval will help us get beyond them. As Avery Cross kneels in front of a gun in a forsaken pine forest his anger and justifications drop away and he instinctively reaches for the only word that really matters: “Sorry.”