Film review: Ryan Gosling lends The Place Beyond the Pines its headlong, fatalistic charge



I started watching The Place Beyond the Pines without knowing much about it, and I wish you could, too. Its daring switches of tempo and character took me by surprise, as did one time jump that seems at first so outrageous that the film can't possibly get away with it. The writer-director Derek Cianfrance gave notice of his talent in the marital tragedy Blue Valentine (2011), which also worked a provocative time trick by eliding scenes from a couple's early courtship with scenes from their breakdown.

That film was a two-hander, and a chamber piece more or less. The Place Beyond the Pines starts out like a small-scale independent drama before revealing itself as a more ambitious project, a triptych that ranges (and rages) over manhood, fatherhood, responsibility, remorse and the strange workings of destiny. It goes on too long, and it falters in its endgame, but by this point we can't help being on its side.

Cianfrance has reunited with his Blue Valentine star Ryan Gosling, whom we first see striding, back to camera, through an upstate rural fairground. He's Luke, a motorcycle stunt rider who's been on the road so long he wouldn't know home from a hole in the ground. His act involves riding his bike around a tight spherical cage, which would be difficult enough without two other riders crisscrossing him. As a metaphor of life it hardly requires comment. He meets Romina (Eva Mendes), a woman he had a fling with when he was last in town.

By chance he discovers that she has an infant son – by him – and now lives with a man (Mahershala Ali) who's taken on the boy as his own. Out of naive and desperate chivalry Luke decides that he's going to do right by the kid. But how to get money? He has a friend named Robin (Ben Mendelsohn), no Boy Wonder but a car mechanic who knows a bit about robbing banks. Luke's got the perfect getaway vehicle in his motorbike, and thus they join felonious forces: "Not since Hall and Oates has there been such a team."

The script, co-written by Cianfrance, Ben Coccio and Darius Marder, is less interested in drolleries like that than in structure and setting. The drab milieu of Schenectady, NY, comes through vividly, early on in scenes of hardscrabble working lives – diners, fairgrounds, backwoods garages – later in the middle-class territory of suburban homes with swimming-pools. The first time these two categories overlap it's marked by violent tragedy. Gosling's performance is key, lending the film its headlong, fatalistic charge and invoking memories of his stylish wheelman in Drive.

His Luke turns out be a more volatile character than we thought, his suspect temperament betraying him into sloppy technique. When he goes solo on a bank job he forgets his face disguise – not a good idea when you've got a dagger tattoo below your eye – and his getaway has the panicked momentum of a fox pursued by hounds.

It's a breathless set-piece we're still recovering from when the film jumps tracks to focus on a police officer named Avery (Bradley Cooper). Like Luke he's the father of a young son, and also grappling with his conscience. Acclaimed a hero for his role in an incident on the beat, he finds himself all at sea with a wife (Rose Byrne) he can't talk to and an ex-judge father (Harris Yulin) he can't live up to. Again, Cianfrance and his writers throw a clever feint in these first impressions. The vulnerable cop we think he is, suborned by a bad-apple older colleague (and played, almost inevitably, by Ray Liotta), turns out to be a much tougher and wilier proposition, though not before a long and terrifying car journey in which the "hero" practically whimpers at the prospect of being whacked.

This middle section, recalling the Sylvester Stallone movie CopLand, is as good as, if not better than, the first, with Cooper excelling as an archetype, the principled man who is personally rather dislikeable. Much as I enjoyed him in The Hangover, I never imagined this actor capable of such layered character work.

It is when the film tries to dovetail the two stories in a grand finale of revenge that the wheels start coming off. For one thing, the leap of 15 years is quite a stretch in the ageing department: Cooper has merely grown his hair a bit, Mendes streaks hers with unconvincing grey, and Byrne stays exactly the same. Fifteen years? More like 15 minutes. But the real problem is to do with the way the sins of the father are imprinted on the teenage offspring of cop and robber.

Cooper, by now a careerist running for State Attorney General, has an obnoxious druggy son (Emory Cohen) who somehow befriends Jason (Dane DeHaan), a skinny, sensitive kid who's much too slow on the uptake about his old man. Forget the coincidence of their meeting, these two would never be friends. DeHaan is extraordinarily good in the role, but he's asked to shoulder far too much melodrama in the last 20 minutes. The mood of disaffection and menace that has haunted the film thins out here; the thrilling particularities of the earlier parts have succumbed to generalities.

By the end, though, the ledger shows the film still heavily in credit. I keep remembering moments from it, like Gosling's cool nod of gladiatorial bravado to his co-stuntmen before they enter the cage; and Cooper's long stare of hopelessness as his words dry up in conversation with a police psychologist. Or the truly scarifying sight of Liotta's eyes as he bends to a car window. Cianfrance gets the right stuff out of his cast, and his cinematographer Sean Bobbitt lights the grimy, troubled corners of Schenectady with persuasive sadness. Not all of it compels, but the parts that do are fantastic.

Arts and Entertainment
Nick Hewer is to leave The Apprentice after 10 years

TV review Nick Hewer, the man whose eyebrows speak a thousand words, is set to leave The Apprentice

Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says

film George RR Martin owns a cinema in Santa Fe

Arts and Entertainment
Clued up: John Lynch and Gillian Anderson in ‘The Fall’

TV review

Arts and Entertainment
The Baker (James Corden) struggles with Lilla Crawford’s Little Red Riding Hood

film...all the better to bamboozle us
Arts and Entertainment
English: Romantic Landscape

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump


Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

Arts and Entertainment
William Pooley from Suffolk is flying out to Free Town, Sierra Leone, to continue working in health centres to fight Ebola after surviving the disease himself

Arts and Entertainment
The Newsroom creator Aaron Sorkin

Arts and Entertainment
Matt Berry (centre), the star of Channel 4 sitcom 'Toast of London'

TVA disappointingly dull denouement
Arts and Entertainment
Tales from the cryptanalyst: Benedict Cumberbatch in 'The Imitation Game'

Arts and Entertainment
Pixie Lott has been voted off Strictly Come Dancing 2014

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

    Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

    As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
    The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

    The Interview movie review

    You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
    Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

    How podcasts became mainstream

    People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

    Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
    Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

    A memorable year for science – if not for mice

    The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
    Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

    Christmas cocktails to make you merry

    Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
    5 best activity trackers

    Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

    Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
    Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

    Paul Scholes column

    It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
    Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

    Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

    2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

    Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

    The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
    Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

    Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

    The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
    Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

    The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

    Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas