Ryan Gosling continues his streak of playing broodingly violent protagonists who are economical with language in The Place Beyond the Pines, sharing the screen with a subdued Bradley Cooper and the sallow-faced intensity of Chronicle’s Dane DeHaan. Eva Mendes and Rose Byrne also feature, although the film sidelines the female characters in favour of focusing on the male relationships. This would be a negative point, were it not for the fact that its central themes are plucked from aspects of maleness that are rarely examined.
Luke Glanton (Gosling) is a motorcycle stunt rider who lives his life on the road with a travelling fair. Returning to the town of Schenectady, he reconnects with Romina (Mendes) and discovers that an earlier liaison with her resulted in the birth of a boy. Glanton quits the road show and settles near his son, taking up residence with low rent mechanic Robin (Ben Mendelsohn) while he attempts to wheedle Romina and the child away from her new boyfriend.
Robin convinces him to start robbing banks so that he can provide for the child, knowing that Glanton’s skill behind the wheel will be an asset. But as the crime spree intensifies, an ambitious young cop (Cooper) with a baby boy of his own is made a hero after a botched robbery. The narrative shifts gears and entangles itself with sub plots involving police corruption and vendettas passed down the generations.
The ambition and scope of The Place Beyond the Pines is not immediately obvious, but as it unravels and envelops you it’s difficult not to feel completely captivated. Beautiful cinematography, careful characterisation and three distinct and very different acts make it feel like a big budget mini-series, in a good way.
The lack of fleshed-out female characters might rub some people up the wrong way, but the film tackles topics that exclude them without being deliberately discriminatory. Gosling is building up a formidable catalogue of legitimate indie hits and The Place Beyond the Pines is essential viewing.