Fathers and Sons
by Zac Ryan
A triptych yarn of epic proportions, Derek Cianfrance's latest film explores how an individual's choices, right or wrong, affect their own lives and the lives of those around them, even over a decade later.
"Handsome Luke" (Ryan Gosling), the brash persona of a daredevil cyclist, isn't the most sane of gentlemen. He travels around with a carnival from town-to-town,, his body covered in tattoos, riding around in a steal circular cage with two other cyclists. He's a daredevil, but it isn't until the carnival makes its return to Synecdoche, New York, that his life is thrown into a tailspin. There he finds that Romina (Eva Mendes), the woman with whom he shared a tryst during his last time through, has birthed his kid. It is time to hang up the high-octane lifestyle for something a little more mundane.
He quits the traveling carnival and tries to find his place within the small town and to weasel his way back into the life of Romina and his child. But Romina has moved onto greener pastures. She now lives with Kofi (Mahershala Ali), who has stepped in to be the child's father, offering them his home and a stable future. It isn't until Luke meets up with the garage owner, Robin (Ben Mendelsohn), that his life is truly turned upside down. Working in the garage provides a comfortable living, but Robin wants to use Luke's skills behind the wheel of his bike for some high-speed bank robberies. Luke complies, feeling this is the only way to get into the good graces of his baby's mama.
Ryan Gosling and Eva Mendes
Luke is good at what he does, but the law won't be too far behind him, led by the lawyer turned rookie cop, Avery (Bradley Cooper). Together, their lives will intersect, spinning the film to shift focus away from Luke's story, and turning it over to Avery and his battles with a corrupt police force, led by Deputy Deluca (Ray Liotta). Avery only wants to do what's right, and after a near death experience, and his own questions of morality, he must do what's right to turn the city around and set the right example for his own son.
The battles that these two must face, fighting their own demons, their own responsibilities of being a father and setting their own kin on the right path, takes up the first two-thirds of the movie. Cianfrance melds the perfect balance between the two stories. Even if completely linear, unlike his previous film, Blue Valentine, this story still has plenty of twists and turns and is always one step ahead of the audience... that is until the third act, where the film jumps ahead more than a decade. Avery is now a politician, but the story centers around the offspring of the two leads, showing the true repercussions of the past.
Avery's son, Jason (Dane DeHaan), crosses paths with Luke's son, AJ (Emory Cohen), while in school. Jason is a little more clean cut, but he isn't as clean and as wholesome as he appears on the surface. As AJ befriends him, the differences between the two socioeconomic classes collide. Truths are revealed about the past, bringing the film to its conclusion. By this time the viewer may finally be a little ahead of the film. During the stories of the fathers, the story keeps the viewer always guessing what the characters will do next, but based on their father's prior actions, the story of the sons becomes a slight bit predictable.
I don't say that to turn you off, as the first two thirds of the film are superb. Gosling and Cooper both cement themselves into leading man territory and justify their prior acting award nominations. I'm not saying that the young actors in the third act are weak (they're not), but the script seems to leave them a little less well-rounded than their fathers. Maybe that's the point that the director and the screenwriters were trying to convey in the battle of nature vs. nurture. The actions of the past cannot be ignored or escaped.
Besides the great performances, the film is beautifully shot by Sean Bobbitt, including one of the greatest opening tracking shots in some time. Cianfrance also knows when to pull back and let the characters and their actions play out, cutting at the right moment to build tension, and leaving the viewer to question every character's decisions. While the run time is just short of two and a half hours, the film moves along at a steady clip, aided by a superb soundtrack from Mike Patton.
While the film had early buzz out of the Toronto Film Fest, the early release date lessens the chances that either of the two leads will garner any of the award attention they justly deserve.
Currently The Place Beyond the Pines is playing in New York and Los Angeles, with release planned in further cities over the next couple of weeks.