The Place Beyond the Pines (3 1/2 out of 5 Stars)
Directed by: Derek Cianfrance (Blue Valentine)
Written by: Derek Cianfrance (Blue Valentine), Ben Coccio (The Beginner), and Darius Marder
Starring: Bradley Cooper, Eva Mendes, and Ryan Gosling
Prior to watching this film I knew that some of it was filmed in my home town Schenectady, New York, but I did not realize the film was set in that town. Watching the film, and seeing a police car chase on Brandywine Street, through the cemetery, and onto State Street, places I have seen many times created a built in connection to this film. Along with this scene there were glimpses of Trustco Bank, my bank, a small bank in the capitol district of upstate New York. The setting of this film feels like one of the characters, and ironically connects with the title. Schenectady is Mohawk for "place beyond pine plains." This setting helps create the backdrop to an interesting one intensely rich film.
Pines weaves together three different story connecting from start to finish the role which status and family play within different people lives. Luke (Gosling) is with what looks like a traveling fair which goes from city to city; he is an expert motorcycle rider, riding around on his bike in a cage with others. After meeting Romina (Mendes) years later the two have a one night stand. Luke returns one year later to find that he has a son. Luke quite his job in order to attempt to take care of his son, while Romina has moved on with someone else. As Luke becomes desperate he starts to robs bank leading his story to connect with police office named Avery (Cooper). Without giving away the direction of the film, the story spans a long period of time in which the sins of fathers come back to haunt their sons.
Throughout time there have been numerous books from the Bible to Shakespeare which give meaning to the adage of the sins of the father. The adage I am most familiar with comes from Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice which states "The sins of the father are to be laid upon the children." This is one of the common themes throughout the film which the three screenwriters explore within Pines. While Luke is almost laden in mystery we do know that he grew up without a father, and he wants to help be there and raise his son because he grew up messed up and he attributes it to his father being absent. On the other hand Avery's father has almost too much of an active role in his life defining him to be someone of merit and value, putting this invisible pressure on him which permeates throughout the film.
The father son element of the film is handled excellently, especially in the third act as you get to watch Luke and Avery's sons experience their father's have or or have not done for them. The scripts exploration of the "haves" versus the "have nots" is also handled well. Luke comes from nothing as does Romina. Meanwhile while Avery and his family do have money their power and influence within the system (at the beginning of the film) provide them with a launching point, which provides them with tons of opportunities. The city of Schenectady plays a great role in creating this class distinction. Schenectady, an old industrial town provides the vantage point of creating the great class divide, something transparent for people who do not call the place home.
Cianfrance's other work Blue Valentine is a little bit tighter with developing the relational divides, and building to the disconnect than Pines. As the film winds down to the third act, and the focus is on both Luke and Avery's sons there is obviously still and interest in the impact of "the sins of the father" but the film starts to lose the steam momentum that penetrates throughout the beginning of the film. I believe this lack unraveling also has to do with the young boy playing AJ (Emory Cohen) who like his film father (Cooper) loses believability with their emotions. Cooper wowed in Silver Linings Playbook, but I lost him in this film, and his internal struggle was overwrought and conveyed too much with over the acting at times. Meanwhile like Luke (Gosling) both he and his film son Jason (Dennis DeHaan) exuded this ferocity within their facial expressions and quiet performances. Gosling is a master at conveying his acting with the look (see Drive, and Blue Valentine).
The film conveys a deep emotional experience that connects you with their characters, and the journey they are which seems for all unfortunately pre-destined. In an era where we want to break free of the class chains this film exposes the powerlessness most succumb to, and the way in which our lot in life determines our place. Pines is a great drama, with a solid script emphasizing the way in which society and the people around us especially our fathers can define the experiences people face.