Schenectady, NY, is the place beyond the pines but it takes a back seat to the main actors who dominate the story from the start.There’s a bit of an attempt to keep the characters in the background by filming them walking in to their scenes from the back but I don’t think it succeeds.
The focus of the movie on the town rather than the characters lets the plot get away with a lot and the Place Beyond the Pines is a bloody exhausting movie to watch. No explosions or machine guns but it was intense in a way that made the world look different after it ended. It was all about men and fatherhood and destiny and legacy.
Ryan Gosling, as Luke Glaston, is a mythical motorcycle stunt rider set to leave for the next town on his tour when a fling from a year ago shows up and brings an unexpected discovery in the form of a son.
Determined to avoid the mistakes of his own life growing up without a father Glaston goes into overdrive to claim back the woman who is the mother of his child. With no money, no prospects, there aren’t many options.
Gosling and, writer/director of the film, Derek Cianfrance worked together previously in Blue Valentine which was also designed, and laboriously planned and filmed, to savage the emotions. Cianfrance combines mostly surprising but occasionally a little cliched and obvious moments to pretty good effect.
I couldn’t quite get a handle on Gosling’s character and I don’t know if it’s because the charismatic actor is just too likeable or because the story wrote him like that. When Groundhog Day was being cast there was a chance Tom Hanks would get the role but it was given to Bill Murray because Hanks was too nice, it was obvious he would turn out ok whereas with Murray there was always that doubt.
Gosling is lovely, he’s the kind of guy you would let rescue your puppy from a nearby well and then cook you dinner after cleaning your house. I think Cianfrance was very sneaky in putting him in this role for two reasons; 1) because of Drive there were already assumptions about how successful he would be with his stunt driving / riding; and 2) he is so nice that it didn’t matter what the character did, the audience would be predisposed to like him whether he had a billion tattoos and dirty, inside-out clothing or not.
Bradley Cooper on the other hand is utterly, and superbly, believable as insidious, privileged, arrogant good guy/ appointed hero. He is strong, sure of himself and knows exactly what to do. The stilts of privilege see him walking tall and proudly while Glaston and his son are kind of stooped over by the misfortune or lack of opportunity they were raised beneath. The latter are the ones who blend the line of what is morally acceptable and don’t get away with anything.
There’s some very special cinematography by Sean Bobbitt in the fast-paced scenes. There’s a bit of a struggle when it comes to intimacy. You’ll see what I mean. I think Cianfrance would have liked to make the whole thing longer but at 2hrs 20mins it was already long enough even though it didn’t feel like it.