The emotional nature of new fathers discovering their masculine identity, and their continued self-transformation over an extended period of time as they contemplate who they really are, is skillfully presented in director-co-writer Derek Cianfrance ‘s new crime-drama, ‘ The Place Beyond the Pines .’ Through the unique plot point of telling three interlaced, linear stories in one film, and showcasing the real and lasting consequences of each character’s actions in each subsequent story, as the protagonist is passed from one man to the next, the filmmaker created an emotionally tense and realistic story. The characters’ tainted personalities and continued sense of guilt over how their actions will impact their families is skillfully enhanced through the film’s stunning visuals, including the diverse locations and costumes and the distinct, natural cinematography.
‘ The Place Beyond the Pines ‘ follows high-wire motorcycle stunt performer Luke (Ryan Gosling) as he travels with a carnival from town to town during the mid-1990s. While passing through Schenetady in upstate New York, he tries to reconnect with a former lover, Romina (Eva Mendes), only to learn that she has given birth to their son, Jason, since he last visited a year ago. Luke becomes upset that Romina has started a new romantic relationship, and is now living with Kofi (Mahershala Ali), who is acting as a stable father-figure for Jason. To reunite with his newfound family, Luke decides to settle down in Schenetady. He begins working as a car mechanic for the local shop run by Robin (Ben Mendelsohn), who proposes they work together on a series of bank robberies so that Luke can truly provide for his son.
Luke’s robberies put him on the radar of the local police department, particularly rookie cop Avery (Bradley Cooper), who’s busy contending with the corrupt detective Deluca (Ray Liotta). Avery is busy trying to balance his professional and personal lives, which includes appeasing Deluca and providing for his wife, Jennifer (Rose Byrne), and their infant son, AJ. The consequences of Avery’s eventual confrontation with Luke will not only dictate the path and future of his career, but also how he deals with his family. Avery and Luke’s clash reverberates into the next generation in the present day, when Jason (Dane DeHaan) and AJ (Emory Cohen) coincidentally meet in high school, and try to learn how to cope with their fathers’ mistakes.
The crime drama stunningly emphasized Cianfrance’s humanistic theme of masculine identity and the internal transformation of men as they contend with the struggles of how to properly provide for and raise their families through the stunning visuals. Production designer Inbal Weinberg and costume designer Erin Benach, who both previously worked with the filmmaker on his Academy Award-nominated romantic drama ‘Blue Valentine,’ highlighted Luke and Avery’s equal determination, but different approaches, to properly raise their sons in locations that realistically showcased their beliefs and class standing.
Weinberg brilliantly showcased Luke’s difficulty of adapting to his newfound fatherhood by unwillingly being relegated to share a small, shabby and cluttered trailer in the middle of the woods with Robin once he began working for the car mechanic. He also came to embrace robbing small, impersonal banks with dull, meek furniture that perfectly reflect his gloomy future of working a minimum wage job while trying to raise his infant son. Despite all the money he stole from the numerous banks he robbed, Benach continued to dress Luke in the same few frayed work shirts and outfits. His tattered appearance and untidy trailer show he was content to forsake his own comfort to give his money to Romina for Jason.
Avery, meanwhile, shared a medium-sized, working class home with Jennifer and AJ that Weinberg filled with personal mementos, such as family pictures, and affordable and ragged furniture. While he wasn’t able to indulge his wife and son with excessive possessions while he was working as a police officer, Avery’s home was filled with personal and sentimental belongings that remind him of why he wants to protect his family. When he wasn’t dressed in his police uniform, Benach outfitted him in comfortable and affordable athletic outfits to emphasize he was content with his current job on the police force
When the narrative moves to the current day and chronicles the conflict between AJ and Jason and their differing views on family and friends, Avery has moved up the ranks from rookie cop to a run for New York Attorney General. Despite his continued internal struggle over his clash with Luke in the beginning of his career, Weinberg emphasizes Avery’s continuous professional advances through the well-furnished mansion he has moved into. While Avery still reminds himself of the importance of family through the numerous pictures he put on display throughout his house, the extreme upgrade in the size of his home and the disconnected feeling of the modern furniture and impersonal belongings represent his growing detachment from his son.
Benach also highlighted Avery’s continued commitment to his career and family by constantly dressing him in tailored suits, even when he wasn’t officially working. His suits showcase his belief that he has to remain dedicated to his cause of truly protecting and serving not only Schenetady, but all of New York.
While cinematographer Sean Bobbit hadn’t previously worked with Cianfrance, he quickly understood the director’s desire to showcase the ever-changing relationship between fathers and sons. Bobbit highlighted the filmmaker’s theme of men continuously transforming and evolving through his strong sense of composition. Bobbit used natural lighting and handheld cameras to truly focus on the characters’ natural actions and motivations in their normal, familiar settings. The cinematographer’s natural and diverse shots showcase the characters’ emotions, from the close-up shots of Luke and Avery in their natural elements, such as Luke riding his motorcycle and Avery riding in his patrol car, to the wide shots of the two men when they’re unsure how to cope with a situation, such as the motorcyclist meeting his son for the first time and the police officer attempting to take down those who have wronged society.
Cianfrance truly reflected on how men truly transform and uniquely react to the struggles of fatherhood, and how other people’s perception of them can truly change their life course and thoughts about themselves by following Luke, Avery and AJ and Jason in three linear stories. Instead of focusing on the fathers and sons in the present day and flashing back to the two sons’ early childhood to chronicle how they were shaped into the men they are today, the filmmaker allowed audiences to emotionally connect with the characters by allowing them to witness each life-changing moment as they happened.
The crime-drama’s story and protagonist is passed off from Luke to Avery to AJ and Jason to showcase the consequences of each character’s actions, particularly once the director and co-writer introduces guns into the plot. Despite the differences between the two fathers and sons, they all rely on guns at some point to obtain what they want, proving they all resort to doing whatever it takes to get what they want. While the characters are all initially introduced as being glorified by those around them, their increased reliance on guns and violence to obtain what’s best for their families puts them in the wrong for the first time. Being in the wrong increases their inner guilt and conflict, and consequently puts them at odds with the ones they were hoping to protect.
Cianfrance created a thought-provoking, visually stunning and emotional glimpse into the struggles men overcome to provide for their families and be a respectable role model for their children, to the best of their ability with ‘ The Place Beyond the Pines .’ The well-planned and diverse locations Weinberg used and costumes Benach created subtly but powerfully showcase Luke and Avery’s different outlooks and approaches about caring for their sons. Bobbit also realistically and elegantly highlighted the story’s meaningful theme of the continued transformation of men, as a result of their family relationships and careers, through his strong sense of composition and skillful use of natural lighting and hand-held cameras. The creative visual effects positively supported the filmmaker’s clever linear storytelling, allowing audiences to emotionally connect with the characters by showing them each life-changing moment as they happened