Once upon a time on television someone invented the mini-series – an episodic arrangement that often described several generations of a family.
Usually, these programs began with a humble male, battling against oppression or poverty or both. The hero made it big in some pursuit, took his revenge on those who had oppressed him and graduated from well meaning citizen to either a bastard or a completely misunderstood patriarch of a dysfunctional family. His children were loathsome and it took the next generation to produce someone more like our hero to continue the family name and business.
But that was long ago and you don’t get much of that anymore – except for The Place Beyond The Pines (2012) the second feature of writer/director Derek Cianfrance.
As our attendees observed this was ‘three or four films in one’, beginning with the story of Luke (Ryan Gosling) and finishing with that of his son, Jason (Dane DeHaan), who never knew his father.
Interspersed is another story of Avery Cross (Bradley Cooper), a policeman whose life crosses paths with Luke’s; and Avery’s son, AJ (Emory Cohen), who befriends Jason at high school, neither knowing the background story.
Any other story line revelation would spoil this excellent movie too much for those who haven’t seen it. There are other characters playing key roles in this story, notably Jason’s mother, Romina (Eva Mendes) and a menacing detective, played chillingly by Ray Liotta.
The Place Beyond The Pines unfolds in the New York state town of Schnectady and there is an interesting study of fate and how hard it is to come from the bottom as opposed to being already at the top.
Luke gives up his role as a motor cycle stunt rider at a travelling carnival when he finds out he is Jason’s father. His intentions are honourable and he tries hard but Romina decides on stability with her current boyfriend rather than the exciting but uncertain future of her son’s real father. Luke’s boss Robin (Ben Mendelsohn) has previously robbed banks and the two successfully do this with Luke’s intention to make enough money to create his own home for his ‘family’.
Mendelsohn is tremendous. Breaking from his broad Australian accent, he has used Dustin Hoffman’s Ratso Rizzo in the 1969 classic Midnight Cowboy as his inspiration. He doesn’t limp but bounds awkwardly like an excited puppy as he shows Luke around his property.
Luke has tried the right way to achieve but impatience, frustration and weakness of character soon see him fall foul of Romina and things go awry.
Enter Avery, a rookie policeman with a law degree and son of a retired eminent judge. Avery also has the right intentions but when things go awry in his life, he has the skill and position to not let these bring him down. Despite his breeding, loving father and supportive wife (Rose Byrne’s Jennifer doesn’t have much to do on screen), Avery connives his way through most of the rest of his life. He succeeds spectacularly in public; Luke is just another bank robber.
I found this parallel intriguing. The way the system is geared for those who are already there and providing little or no hope for those who are not.
Romina and her new man, provide the middle ground. People who aren’t going anywhere fast but still raising a family in respectable circumstances, with love not ambition the key element.
The third or fourth story revolves around the children, mere babies when we first meet them and older students in high school when they come together. Again the wealthy, privileged child has less redeeming qualities than the boy raised without his own father but, nevertheless, loved like a biological son by his stepfather.
Jason seeks the real father and his life changes. The viewer is given hope that his life will benefit from leaving his family but cynics may believe he is riding off to the horizon only to repeat the mistakes of the father.
Because of its complexities, The Place Beyond The Pines is long (2 hours, 20 minutes) but well worth the look.
FOOTNOTES: It seems Ryan Gosling is an overnight sensation after successive leading roles in Drive (2011), The Ides of March (2011), Crazy, Stupid Love (2011) and Gangster Squad (2013). However, he has been on the screen since he began in TV series as a 15-year-old.
Cianfrance’s first feature film, Blue Valentine (2010), also starred Gosling, with Michelle Williams.
According to one review I read, Schnectady is American Indian for the place beyond the pines.