In The Place Beyond the Pines (2013), Derek Cianfrance finds himself re-teaming with Ryan Gosling from his first film, Blue Valentine (2010). The film tells three separate, but connected stories based in Schenectady, New York. In Mohican, Schenectady means ‘place beyond the pine plains’. Just as the Mohicans depicted the pines separating two different communities, so does Cianfrance metaphorically through the lifestyles of his characters.
Interestingly, Cianfrance interfaces Blue Valentine’s storyline by intermittently jumping between past and future. In The Place Beyond the Pines, he takes a more vertical approach to the storyline and also dramatically accelerates the periods over which the story takes place. In this way, the story unfolds events that take place over the course of several decades involving multiple characters.
A traveling carnival motorcyclist, Luke (Gosling), makes an annual trip with his outfit through the city of Schenectady. There he has a relationship with Romina (Eva Mendes) and the story jumps forward a year with each of their encounters. On one trip, Ryan comes to find out that he fathers Romina’s child from an earlier trip. On impulse, Luke quits his job and attempts to become involved in his one-year-old son’s life. The only issue is that between the annual encounters with Luke, Romina has found a stable boyfriend, Kofi (Mahershala Ali), who provides security and stability.
As the story progresses, Luke takes to robbing banks by utilizing his unusual talents in order to provide for his son and undermine Kofi’s security. During one such transgression, Luke crosses paths with Avery Cross (Bradley Cooper). Their encounter switches the story’s focus, as we become vested in Avery and his son who the same age as Luke’s son.
It becomes clear that Avery involves himself in his son’s life differently than Luke. One of the things making Avery’s past starkly different from Luke’s is the fact that everything has always been provided for him. Before long, Avery’s temptations and morals are heavily tested and even though it appears he is making the right choices, time will only tell what values are passed down from father to son. Fast forward 15 years, Luke and Avery’s sons, Jason (Dane DeHaan) and AJ (Emory Cohen), become high school acquaintances. Both kids similarly don’t know their fathers yet end up completely different and will see how their fathers’ selfish and selfless choices affected their futures.
In its moral essence, The Place Beyond the Pines is a story about fatherhood and how decisions ultimately affect children when they mature. As a film, it is a supreme example of acting and storytelling. Overall, Cianfrance has created a story that is compelling and should not be missed.