Schenectady, New York is the setting of ‘Blue Valentine’ director Derek Cianfrance’s meditative character study ‘The Place Beyond the Pines,’ a complex and contemplative tale of not only crime and punishment, but also how our decisions and actions can have unintended consequences. Like ‘Crash,’ ‘Babel’ and ‘Traffic,’ the three separate stories told in TPBTP interweave and converge in such a way that the overall story comes full circle in the end. Below are spoiler-free synopses of the three acts in this modern Shakespearean tragedy.
Act One is the tale of a traveling circus ‘Gerbil Sphere’ motorbike stuntman (Ryan Gosling) who discovered that he had a son. His girlfriend (played by his real life girlfriend, Eva Mendes), who tried to hide this fact from him, had since settled down with a man of more stable means and wanted to let him off the hook. While most men would thank his lucky stars and happily play the deadbeat dad, Gosling felt responsible and insisted on providing for the boy, even if it meant breaking the law. Act Two tells the story of a rookie policeman (Bradley Cooper) who crosses path with Ryan Gosling. The son of a retired state supreme court judge with a strong sense of justice, Cooper finds himself increasingly disillusioned with what he perceives as rampant corruption in a police force the ideals of which he swore to uphold and defend. The third and final act of the movie occurs 15 years later, with the focus shifting from Gosling and Cooper to their teenage sons, now attending the same high school.
With fine storytelling and excellent performances from Gosling and Cooper et al, TPBTP is a fine example of contemporary Neo-noir, even as it meanders and takes numerous detours in its path ‘through the pines’ to its destination.