There are certain things you hope for, of certain movies you see. Most of the time, the expectations are kept at a minimum – on a slow Sunday afternoon, you may pay eleven dollars for a ticket and wonder why you’ve deemed a certain movie worthy of your time, and as the explanation general follows: what the heck, there’s nothing else worth seeing. We are so constantly fed a mind-blowing array of extravagant epics that whenever we are granted the opportunity to see an allegedly more thoughtful, insightful film, we jump at the offering and secretly hope for the best. This was true of me when I first saw a trailer for The Place Beyond the Pines earlier this year, a movie that looked very promising and truly inspirational. The follow-through has left me intrigued, but maybe just faintly disappointed.
The sprawling, melodramatic scope of this movie’s plot proceeds as follows: Luke Glanton, a motorcycle stuntman with a traveling show, returns to the town of Schenectady, New York, where he encounters his old girlfriend, Romina. Before long, Luke, intent on reconnecting with Romina, visits her home and discovers that she has given birth to a son by him since he was last in town, and has now settled down with another man. Suddenly confronted with a self-imposed sense of responsibility, Luke quits his job in the show and looks for steady work so he can provide for and become a regular part of his son’s life. He manages to get a job at an auto shop working for a man named Robin, but the pay isn’t nearly enough to support his family, and so Luke starts to flirt with a drastic idea posed by Robin – that together, they rob a bank.
His ensuing actions lead him down a dark and inevitably perilous path, as the choices he makes for his son lead to his own demise, and as these choices bring his life and legacy into direct conflict with the life of another man – a police officer named Avery Cross, whose involvement with the fall of this tragic figure comes to affect and alter his life in ways he could never have imagined.
The thematic points to this movie are strong and deeply effective. The story fascinated me, moving from one plot point to the next with utter unpredictability, unifying the struggles of each character into a monumental revelation regarding the consequences of fatherly love and ambition. It is a testament to this film’s intelligence in direction and casting that Bradley Cooper and Ryan Gosling could easily have played one another’s parts with equal conviction; you get the sense that either character could have lived the other’s life much the same as the other has lived it, had he been placed under the same circumstances.
For all that Gosling’s Luke Glanton has in the way of faults and weaknesses, he becomes an iconic and mythological figure by the end of the story, due not only to his own son’s fascination with the father he never knew, but because he – of the two central protagonists in this film – was the father who committed himself to the support of his family. Glanton is a tragic hero – tragic, because he believed in the cause worth fighting for, yet did not know how to properly defend it. Cross is the antihero, for how he lets a mistake and a lie define his career, opting to pursue the route of ambition, rather than the path of fatherhood and devotion. The heroes of this movie are the ones written off as “bad guys” by the rest of the world, while the tortured captors who vindicate themselves over the bodies of those “beneath” them are lauded as the heroes of society. This movie is as much about class distinctions and circumstance as anything else, and we see that the legacy of a man who cared for his son means a lot more than the legacy of a man who let his own demons get in the way of raising a secure human being.
The conceptual weight of this movie is admirable for its ambition and insight; the actors are all top-notch and deliver remarkable performances, and the whole picture is embedded with a richness in direction and musical scoring that make its sum total sound like a miraculous achievement.
Yet for all that occurs, for all that we see, I cannot help but feel that I never heard enough from the characters in this movie. The story, the concepts, the style, and the commitment are all there, but still, I feel that any sort of emotional resonance is missing from the picture. It is only when Glanton’s son, fifteen years after his father’s death, is seen riding his bike down the same pine tree-lined roads once ridden by his father, that I began to feel the twinges of emotional connection that I so readily expected to burst forth from the viewing of this film.
It may just be my own expectations of what the movie should have been getting in the way of my actually enjoying it, but at critical points the pacing felt quick, and the directing failed to immerse this audience member in the journey of its characters. I’ve read one critic’s response which commented that every moment felt like a climatic revelation, and I agree – you’re only ever witnessing a life-and-death situation here, without any time ever taken to breathe and settle into a new reality; there is only constant change.
For an American movie released this early in the year, The Place Beyond the Pines is certainly a welcome anomaly that strives quite openly for something higher, even if it never quite achieves true humanity. If the pace had been slower, if the director and editor had taken more time to observe and relate, then the tone of the film may have come somewhat closer to achieving accessibility. The work is almost entirely a spectator experience – what we are watching is a fable being woven, not a relatable journey being unfolded for the sake of our personal understanding. Given that, it is a fascinating, exciting treat with which to mark the end to the first quarter of this, as of yet, surprising year.
Click Below to Listen:[audio:http://pawling.wpengine.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/04-20-Reflection-Silver-Screen-Place-Beyond-Pines1.mp3|Titles = Reflection Silver Screen-Place Beyond Pines]