The Place Beyond the Pines, as directed by Derek Cianfrance, tells a story in three distinct acts. The first follows motorbike stuntman-turned-bank bandit Luke Glanton (Ryan Gosling) as he tries desperately to provide for the child he hadn’t known he had and the baby’s mother, Romina (Eva Mendes). The second follows Schenectady cop Avery Brooks (Bradley Cooper) – the man that takes Luke down and suffers the consequences for fifteen years. And the third focuses on the two men’s sons 15 years after the cataclysmic, life-defining event.

Gosling soars both figuratively and literally in the role of Luke, the directionless young man that becomes overwhelmed with a sense of duty towards his newfound family. Of course there are the superficial alterations to his pretty body image – the bleached blonde hair, the innumerable ill-advised tattoos, the tattered clothing – but Gosling also delivers a deft and transformative performance. His stride is almost lumbering, giving off a sense of self-assurance; but his shoulders are slightly rounded, indicating the contradiction of self-consciousness. There’s also a decidedly boyish quality to him. When baby Jason cries as Luke sits him on his bike, Luke’s heart breaks in Gosling’s emotive eyes.

Luke’s trajectory fails to be that of a guy on the wrong side of the tracks making good. His is rather the story of a man plagued by a sense of inadequacy, and, blessed by the news of a son, tries to be a better father than his own was to him. But he tries too fast to be too much, to provide too much and – in no small thanks to a mechanic named Robin (Ben Mendelsohn) – finds robbing banks to be the answer. In a film with neither heroes nor antiheroes, Luke’s loose morality doesn’t serve him – or his son – well in the end.

Cooper as Avery first arrives on the scene to take Luke down all alone in a residential neighborhood. After their ultimate confrontation in a second-story bedroom, Avery leans over the window sill in shock, beads of sweat sliding off his nose and into the rapidly growing pool of blood spreading around Luke’s body. It’s a surprisingly early end to the man front and center on the DVD cover, and it initially causes a sense of dread for what the next 90 minutes of film could possibly hold to keep your interest. However, Cooper, as he showed in Silver Linings Playbook, is more than credible as a serious actor and assumes the role of the protagonist with ease.

While Avery’s struggle with leaving a man’s son fatherless proves touching and interesting psychologically, his run-ins with the dirty cops in Schenectady are less so. More than anything, the crookedness in the police force led by Deluca (Ray Liotta) seems to have been incorporated into the narrative solely for the purpose of getting Avery bumped up through the ranks to DA. Fifteen years later, he’s running for Senate, is divorced from his wife (Rose Byrne) and will soon have his troubled son, A.J. (Emory Cohen) moving in with him.

A.J. is introduced as a brooding 17-year-old with palpable animosity towards both his parents. Transferring to the Schenectady high school after moving in with Avery, he befriends a wiry blond loner-type who he enlists to be his drug buddy. It’s Luke’s son Jason (Dane DeHaan). The story between the two boys certainly means to evoke the idea of the sins of the father and it works, despite the fact that Cohen is poorly cast in the role – not believable as the son to either parent.

All of the men in The Place Beyond the Pines are rife with complexities of character, ambiguous ambition and somewhat honorable motivations. Yet, their futures are determined by the most reductive kind of fate: this kind of father creates this kind of a son and so on. Mendes, who mutes her natural charisma to inhabit her role in the film, is underused, just as Romina’s sins of the mother are underexplored. Would it have helped if Jason had learned something of his father from her, instead of a lonely Google search?

Using a triptych format for The Place Beyond the Pines, with each third clearly meant to represent a “result” of the one before it (seen or unseen), Cianfrance wants to show the consequences of the actions of one man on another. In attempting to do so, in sticking to so rigid a structure with so inevitable a path, The Place Beyond the Pines as a whole gives the impression of trying a bit too hard to fit its own structure. Whatever the shortcomings of the ambitious film, it doesn’t fail to be thought-provoking and a good watch, as Gosling, Cooper and Mendes are all more than nimble and affecting with their economy of lines and time on the screen.

Blu-ray Extras

The Place Beyond the Pines Blue-ray pack comes with an Audio Commentary track featuring director/co-writer Derek Cianfrance. His voiceover provides insight into his inspiration for the film, where they shot the movie and how he chose the actors for the project. A featurette called “Going to the Place Beyond the Pines” follows. The actors discuss how they came into their characters and it’s revealed that Ryan Gosling took on a number of his own stunts. The entire featurette is disappointing at only four minutes. Four deleted scenes are also included, all of which were wisely scrapped from the final project. In addition to the Blu-ray disk is both a standard DVD copy of the movie and a digital copy code.

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