Are the actions of the fathers destined to be repeated by the sons? In Derek Cianfrance’s second film, “The Place Beyond the Pines”, Handsome Luke is pacing, his heavy breathing heard before he’s even seen. He’s psyching himself up for his daredevil motorcycle act. Opening with a medium shot of the chiseled torso of Ryan Gosling, there’s an urgency and excitement that leads the audience to expect a thrilling ride. This first of three acts does have robberies, get-aways and a dramatic ending, but it’s packed with stereotype Hollywood tropes: the final desperate job, the long-suffering, hard-working wife/mistress, and the thief with the heart of gold that meets a tragic end. There are spoilers ahead but you’d have figured this all out yourself after the opening act.
Eva Mendes plays such a tragic figure that most of her scenes involve weeping. Her role is one of reaction. Even in the movie poster, Ryan Gosling is holding money, Bradley Cooper; a gun. Eva is shown winching as if in pain. The story has her character, Romina, drawn to Luke even though she knows he’s bad news (I mean, look at those tattoos!) and she’s already involved with someone else. The revelation that he’s a father, drive the fatherless Luke to abandon the road and support his son and win Romina’s heart. Even though it was a one night stand, suddenly, Luke has decided to do the right thing. But Luke can’t escape his nature. As he’s is putting together a crib using a tiny Allen wrench (“L”-shaped tool often used to assemble IKEA furniture), Luke suddenly smashes the face of Romina’s lover. The incongruity of the heavy wrench he uses seems like such a plot device (where did it come from?) that the movie stalls when it should be gaining momentum.
The second act features our young cop, Avery, played by Bradley Cooper. He’s hailed as a hero but suffers the knowledge that he shot first and has left a fatherless child. Conflicted and wounded, he convalesces at home but can’t bring himself to confide in his long-suffering wife, another tragic female character (played by Rose Byrne), and he can’t bring himself to connect with his own infant son. Hmmm, could this lead to problems down the line? Only if this is the type of movie to feature police corruption, a showdown in the woods and a moral crossroad for our “hero”. Oh wait, this is that movie.
Giving up hope that there will be anything original happening in the third act, the audience is rewarded with the story circling back on itself and repeating scenes that rang false the first time. Avery tries to give Romina money in the same way Luke did, even using the same words. Jason discovers who his father was and goes to visit Robin, the mechanic who took Luke in but also lead him astray. Ben Mendolson, as Robin, almost steals the film with the one performance that doesn’t feel staged and phony.
Not only do the two sons meet, Avery is now a Lieutenant Governor and must bail out his damaged son from jail–just as Robin bailed out Luke. Realizing who his son, AJ (Emory Cohen), is mixed up with, Avery demands that he “leave that boy alone”. So, of course, AJ, played with a broad Trenton accent and gold chains, bullies Jason into robbing a convenience store and invites him to a party at his father’s house. AJ and Jason have a drug and booze-fueled evening of fun till Jason, a very good Dane DeHaan, realizes that the photographs he’s repeatedly smashed into are of the man-who-killed-my-father. The sons fight and Jason ends up the hospital.
As the long-suffering Mom, Romina comes to the hospital only to be rejected by her son, Jason. Now there’s a confrontation at gun point, one son that appears to be dead, a kidnapping and a death threat in the woods with Bradley’s character AGAIN, and a dramatic moment of AJ realizing his father’s worth and standing literally and figuratively at his side. And guess who rides off into the sunset on a motorcycle? Could it be the son of the man who rode into town to start this whole mess? Not only do the sins of the fathers get visited upon the sons; so does the skill to ride a motorcycle. Who knew that was genetic?
Rating: one pull off a bottle of Jack, without the “oxy” please.