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Ryan Gosling as stunt riding heart throb 'Handsome Luke'

Ryan Gosling as stunt riding heart throb ‘Handsome Luke’

Stretching over a period of fifteen years, Derek Cianfrance’s The Place Beyond the Pines tells the intertwining tales of travelling carnival stunt rider Luke (Ryan Gosling), law student turned policeman Avery (Bradley Cooper), and the legacy they leave to their teenage sons.

Set mainly at a slow and steady pace, with minimal action, pared downed dialogue and most of the emotion being portrayed solely through body language and gestures, the film is very much character driven. Much like his last feature Blue Valentine, Cianfrance places the focus entirely on relationships. Where Blue Valentine explored the intricacies of love, marriage, and hateful breakdown, The Place Beyond the Pines instead deconstructs male relationships; laying fatherhood, friendship and loyalty out on a science lab table top for a full on guts-out prod about.

Split into three sections, the focus initially falls on Luke. Moving through Schenectady with his motorcycling act, he discovers a fling the previous summer with local girl Romina (Eva Mendez) has led to him becoming a father. Luke decides to put his riding days behind him in order to become a permanent feature in his newfound child’s life. Struggling for money in the face of tensions with both Romina and her new lover, Kofi (Mahershala Ali), Luke steps his fledgling friendship with new landlord Robin (Ben Mendelsohn) up a level to target banks ripe for robbing.

With Luke’s expert bike skills and Robin’s previous criminal form, a successful heist team is born, and it isn’t long before we see the two of them celebrating with a spot of beer and Bruce Springsteen. Having had no relationship with his own father, Robin fits the bill of father figure for Luke. Older, wiser, it’s as though he recognises a younger self. Luke may be pulling in the money, however the barriers between he and his son remain. Desperately wanting to do the right thing, Luke’s dream of the perfect family unit is shattered by his underlying violent tendencies and the horrible realisation that even when made with the best of intentions, bad decisions can often lead to a fall.

Ryan Gosling with Eva Mendez as Romina, mother of his child

Ryan Gosling with Eva Mendez as Romina, the mother of his child

Gosling’s performance is understatedly stunning – his particular trademark brand of heart breaking eye acting working to full effect in the role of errant father trying to make amends.

Bradley Cooper as Avery Cross

Bradley Cooper as Avery Cross

With the story falling on the shoulders of reluctantly heroic cop, Avery Cross, we are quickly introduced to a man dealing with the consequences of his own bad decision. Whether or not his intentions lie in the right place is initially hard to judge. We see a young man coming to terms with a work-related incident that leaves him hospitalized. Defying his own father’s calls for him to return to his law background, Avery becomes driven to succeed in a police force riddled with corruption, while also entangling himself in the life of Luke’s nearest and dearest, and becoming increasingly distanced from both his wife and baby son.

Sacrificing friendship for the greater good – to clear a heavy conscience or purely to further his career goals? – Avery’s motives seem unclear. Cooper performs well in the role of the young Avery, troubled by an error of judgement, but the real time for him to shine will be once he leaves the shell suits of the past behind and Cianfrance moves the story on by fifteen years.

Emory Cohen as AJ and Dane DeHaan as Jason

Emory Cohen as AJ and Dane DeHaan as Jason

The third and final segment centres on the children of Luke and Avery, and the repercussions of their father’s past doings on their lives. Luke’s son Jason (Dane DeHaan) knows nothing of his biological father, having had a stable upbringing with Romina and Kofi, while Avery’s son AJ (Emory Cohen) appears to have grown up distanced from his father by career and divorce. The bonds of friendship and family are tested, as secrets from the past return – pushing Jason to his limits, and haunting Avery to breaking point. DeHaan looks old before his time throughout, displaying great ability for both subtlety and rage.

Cooper is a revelation towards the very end, showing how much talent lies beneath the tendency to stray toward lighter roles. It’s a shame that we don’t get to see more of this earlier, as with the young Avery there could be much more exploration of the relationship with his father, and there are stilted talks with his psychiatrist that could be expanded upon. We only get to see the full effects of the ghosts which plague him very late in the day, but then a slow build up seems par for the course with Cianfrance.

So much of the story hinges on fatherhood, and sacrifices made for the ones we love, but some of the aspects are only touched upon briefly. Where it succeeds there are the jokes between Jason and ‘real’ father Kofi, Luke’s sense of duty to Romina and their child, the eventually destructive sense of care shown to Luke by Robin, and Robin’s short but very sweet interactions with Jason. Where it fails, I feel a little cheated by the shallow depths of Avery’s relationships with both his father and son, and the fleeting glance of friendships that test his loyalties.

But overall – as with Blue Valentine – Cianfrance’s best and most believable relationships are the ones he shows you. Relationships, partnerships and friendships, that are built up bit by bit through actions and interactions. The old writing axiom of “Show, don’t tell” is always at work. As mentioned before, the build up is slow, and very considered. For some this means the running time may be a problem, but for those willing to sit back and let the story gradually unfold, there are many rewards.

The performances are of the highest standard, even smaller roles for Ray Liotta and Bruce Greenwood being approached with as much care as those of the main cast. Ben Mendelsohn is such a strong presence in his role as Robin and stripped of all her usual glamour, Eva Mendez is beautifully sad as Romina. Mike Patton’s sweeping soundtrack works in harmony with the sublime cinematography of Sean Bobbit – the final scene in particular making for a visually stunning viewing experience.

Putting fatherhood issues aside, The Place Beyond the Pines is full of ill-judged decisions made in haste. But in life, everyone makes mistakes. It’s what we do over time to rectify them that truly counts.

Epic in scope and length, Derek Cianfrance has taken on an ambitious project which doesn’t always work, but when it does, it hits where it hurts.

God damn, I need a pair of those trews in my life...

God damn, I need a pair of those trews in my life…

On a lighter note, the highlight for me was always going to be Ryan Gosling and Ben Mendelsohn boogying with a dog to Dancin’ in the Dark though, wasn’t it? I mean, come on…


What’s at the end of the universe? The beginning of vengeance!

“Let them eat static!”

E: The adventure continues on and now after a battering at the box office for The Motion Picture, due to a little film called Star Wars fucking up everything for them, a new adventure beholds our seasoned crew. How will the crew of the USS Enterprise handle their new mission of finding an audience? Simply put – make the best film in the franchise.

kirk control

“God I hate students!”

E: It appears from the get go that Kirk hasn’t moved on from his control issues so endurance testingly portrayed in the previous movie. Set-up done, Kirk is restless due to having to spend his time as a glorified lecturer to a bunch of students on a training mission. James T. Kirk doesn’t teach goddammit, he leads! Oh… whatever happened to Chekov?

Blindin' etc

Blindin’ etc

M: Chekov? I’ll tell you what happened to Chekov. He’s fannying about on some dust ridden planet with a fella wearing the wrong hue of neck garment (ultimately, a shade that spells “doomed”) and they seem to have had an unfortunate run in with the product of a union between Tina Turner and a failed Rod Stewart tribute act.

Rod Stewart, yesterday.

Limahl, yesterday…

M: No. Sorry. I was wrong. It’s that guy from Fantasy Island! The planes, boss, etc. Oh dear. Due to the red colour of Chekov’s buddy’s jib, he’s done for, isn’t he? That poor bastard.

Ceti Eel Fodder :(

Khan-non Fodder.

M: I’m not appreciating the evil grin of this 80’s popstar. Nor am I partial to him maneouvering – or wiggling about in the hind quarters of – a strange beastie with a pair of  tweezers. What the hell is he pulling out of it’s back end? And why is he letting it loose to play with Checkov’s helmet?

That's one hell of an ear infection.

That’s one hell of an ear infection.

E: This is what happens to Chekov when he doesn’t have the rest of the Enterprise crew to back him up: a mind-controlling bug in the ear, that’s what!

Khan of Arabia.

Khan of Arabia.

E: But I am getting ahead of myself slightly, who did this to him? Our antagonist Khan is who. Introduced in a somewhat interesting manner which led me to ponder that if we watched the film from our villains perspective; would the film be like Lawrence of Arabia in Space?

Is that a fake chest?

Is that…is that a fake chest?

M: Ah, so that’s who the aging pop star is. Khan Noonien Singh. A genetically engineered superman, left marooned in the middle of nowhere years ago with his fellow supermen, by none other than one Jimmy Kirk.

Khan, in happier, "I am the new God" times.

Khan, in happier, “I am the new God” times. Before the peroxide and perm.

Is... is that a fake chest?

DEFINITELY a fake chest.

E: Now that the villain is introduced we can get on with the second act of our picture. Khan, who seems to have a hard-on for causing Kirk grief, wants to get his vengeance on the captain for pretty much everything bad that has ever happened to him. He does so with glee – cue the aforementioned students proving to be quality red shirts for the ensuing battle.

M: Well, Jimmy did leave Khan on a planet that got its eco-system wrecked. His wife did die, but that’s not Big Jim’s fault is it? There’s no need for Khan to pull a mental and go all “ahm gonnae do yeh, yer crew, and everywan yeh know, ya c**ts!” is there?



E: Well if that wasn’t bad enough, there just so happens to be a science project that can create or destroy a planet and Khan steals it, leading to Kirk rage!

M: Full-on Shatner-shout. No wonder he’s angry, the science project was being worked on by Kirk Junior. Wait, what? Captain Jimmy has a son? When did this happen?

E: Oh yeah… he has a kid (one of many illegitimate children no doubt). But of course, Kirk doesn’t like to lose so roll onto to the next space ship fight please.

"I can't see a bloody thing on this screen"

“I can’t see a bloody thing on this viewscreen”

E: Doesn’t matter that Khan has this great weapon, some minor taunting from Kirk and he is off after him Marty Mcfly ‘chicken’ style. To the battle or as I like to think of it, the Das Boot portion of the film. The Enterprise of course is victorious but at what cost – major Shatner emoting coming up!

Khan didn't get off that lightly either, mind.

Khan didn’t get off that lightly either, mind.

M: But not before a fleeting, pivotal moment of Spock-McCoy contact. Never mind the Shatner emoting, for me the whole emotional mood hangs on the shocked and confused face of DeForest Kelly.

I did try to find a screenshot of the face, honestly. It's just that this sultry, reclining pose caught my attention more.

I did try to find a screenshot of the face, honestly. It’s just that this sultry, reclining pose caught my attention much more.

“Really, Dr. McCoy. You must learn to govern your passions; they will be your undoing.” – crikey!

M: Alas, logic clearly dictates that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, and Spock makes the ultimate sacrifice. “Remember”…hmmm. There’s more to this than meets the eye. Think we better stay tuned, eh lads?

Bro' Love

Bro’ Love

“You are my superior officer. You are also my friend. I have been and always shall be yours.”

M: Oh Christ…choking my words more than Shatner. The logical it’s only a bloody film brain has been thrown out the window to make way for highly illogical tears. I’m broken.

E: Spock is gone (I don’t think I have to worry about spoilers for you) but the day is saved. What does the future hold? Another film probably, going by the last scene.

Who could be in there?

Who could be in there?

E: That’s it, the end. I actually find it very difficult to explain why this film is so quality. Bill Shatner’s over emoting actually works here, making a wafer thin plot and obviously tightly budgeted film into something quite epic. The special effects still hold up, the cast are all giving some of their best work and the tension created is exemplary (something that would not be repeated for another 4 movies).

Ricardo Montalban: dude with a tan and ladies man.

Ricardo Montalban: dude with a tan and ladies man.

M: No wonder Jimmy wanted Khan out the way. Only room for one slick, oiled chest in space…