The opening shots of The Place Beyond the Pines take us inside the reckless world of “Handsome Luke” Glanton (Ryan Gosling) where we will remain, even after the film credits have rolled. We’re shown the heavily tattooed Glanton wielding his switchblade and, as he exits his trailer, we follow him through the nighttime carnival screams and lights, into the dirt bike tent and his cage. This opening sequence is telling, as Glanton is caged literally and figuratively throughout the story.
Glanton is a stunt rider, part of a trio that rides inside of a round metal cage (think of American Gladiators “Atlaspheres,” but big enough to accommodate three people and bikes) at high speeds. The roar and buzz of it all is loud, permeating, and unsettling. But it’s nothing compared to Gosling’s haunting portrayal of Glanton. He has a lot of quiet moments on screen that scream out with instability and pain. Gosling is Glanton and, after watching the film twice, it’s easy to understand how he was personally affected by his role. He’s a method actor and the results are powerful. I spoke about the film briefly with Austin McCann, General Manager of the Art Theater Co-op, who paraphrased a quote that put method acting in context. He said he read one time that traditional actors enter a room with a purpose, like they’re going to take over the room, whereas method actors give you the feeling that they’re going to need to leave at any moment. Gosling captures that perfectly in Glanton who is, literally, often on the run.
Glanton finds out he has a one-year-old son with Romina (Eva Mendes), an estranged lover who doesn’t give him the “common courtesy” of letting him know until he is ready to skip town again. While he doesn’t change who he is, his determination becomes stronger, and he makes a series of bad decisions. He lives fast. As his friend and confidant Robin says, “If you ride like lightning, you’re going to crash like thunder.”
The film is somewhat implausible, at times, but the emotion is as real as it can be. Mendes is excellent in her role as a troubled mother who has found a new father figure for her child, but who is torn between him and the idea of allowing the child’s biological father (Glanton) to be involved. It’s a “nice dream” of a family life that seems to be just out of reach.
The Place Beyond the Pines is about truth and consequences. It asks us what it means to tell the truth and what it means to misremember, misrepresent, and misjudge. It asks us to define what makes a good guy and a bad guy, and makes no apologies for blurring those lines. The consequences are far-reaching and familial, and it explores the idea of the “sins of our fathers.”
Chance encounters, corruption, guilt, and greed all add to the mix. It’s beautifully shot, and the score by Mike Patton carries a heavy weight that seeps inside and grows. Ben Medelsohn (Robin) is fantastic as a goofy yet careful sidekick; Ray Liotta (Deluca) is creepy and terrifying as hell; and Bradley Cooper (Avery) doesn’t disappoint. Cooper’s layers are more easily visible than Gosling’s, but he is placed into a more dynamic role.
There’s really so much I want to say here, but I can’t. Watch it for yourself and enter the cage with “Handsome Luke.” And don’t look away.
The Place Beyond the Pines is now playing at The Art Theater Co-op. Be sure to check their new site for a list of show times.