Wednesday, 8 May 2013


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To paraphrase a line from John Singleton's seminal film of 1991, Boyz n the Hood, "any fool can make a baby, but only a real man can raise his children". And that would seem to be the point of The Place Beyond The Pines, director Derek Cianfrance's meditation on fathers and sons, and his first film since the emotionally bruising Blue Valentine (2009).

Telling three overlapping stories, Cianfrance exams how fathers, whether absent or merely distant, impact negatively on their sons' lives. Luke (Ryan Gosling) is the absent variety, although in his defense, the motorcycle stunt rider with a travelling carnival was unaware that his hook-up from the previous year, Romina (Eva Mendes), had fallen pregnant.

Romina seems to have moved on from Luke; she has a new man (Mahershala Ali) who seems happy to provide for her and her son. But Luke decides that he wants to be involved in his son's life, abandoning the carnival and finding work as a mechanic with a seedy local (Ben Mendelsohn). Luke also believes that money spent is as important as time spent, and when fixing cars doesn't bring in the cash, he and his employer decide to rob some banks.

This action ultimately places Luke on a collision course with rookie cop, Avery (Bradley Cooper). Also a new father, Avery is having trouble bonding with his young son, a trait which would seem to run in the family given his hard-to-impress court judge father's reaction to his recent on-the-job heroics.

Avery seems to have changed career paths from studying the law to upholding it, both to avoid following in his father's footsteps whilst simultaneously trying to gain his attention. It's when he decides to tackle corruption within his small Schenectady precinct that he commands his father's attention whilst triggering his own political ambitions.

Cut to 15 years later, and Avery is now the District Attorney caught up in a re-election campaign. His son, AJ (Emory Cohen), now a teenager and currently living with his mum (Rose Byrne), attempts to get his father's attention by acting out. Moved to a new high school, he meets Jason (Dane Dehaan), a loner who, in spite of a loving mother and stepfather, longs for the deceased father he never knew. It is this fraught friendship which inadvertently yet inevitably brings the drama of these characters' lives full circle and to a head.

Films about father-son relationships are nothing new, and no matter how much of Derek Cianfrance's own daddy issues he brings to bear on this material (co-written with Ben Coccio and Darius Marder), there's very little to invest in: for all its serious intent, 'Pines' does not have the emotional impact of Cianfrance's Blue Valentine. My emotional investment in the story pretty much departed not too long after Gosling did; the subsequent two sections (the film is split into three) becoming less and less involving.

I'm not sure that I'm convinced of Cianfrance's basic philosophy either, that absent or distant dads damage their sons. Deadbeat dads, perhaps, but as a boy raised by a single mother, I'd suggest you do not miss what you never had; I certainly didn't. Besides, at some point, you just have to move on and accept responsibility for yourself: so your daddy left you? Suck it up, kid, and build a bridge!

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