The new film from the director/actor team of Derek Cianfrance and Ryan Gosling is a heavy and lengthy exploration of morality, ambition and fate. This might sound pretentious and vague but the film is both a story of modern-family drama and a seething criticism of corruption in the judiciary and executive branches of government, even if it is simply an indie heist film.
The film seems to have been heavily influenced by HBO-style American TV shows as the plot is vaguely episodic and follows different characters for different sections of the narrative. The film starts with Luke (Gosling), a travelling motorcycle stunt man, finding out that he has a son with Romina (Eva Mendes), an ex-‘flame’. He wants to provide for his son so decides to stay local and gets a job with a local mechanic called Robin (Ben Mendelsohn) who lives out in a deserted building out in the forest (beyond the pines). Together they begin to rob banks as Luke tries to support his son and win back Romina. This eventually gets him in trouble with an ambitious policeman called Avery Cross (Bradley Cooper) who has his eyes on a career in politics. The film then jumps fifteen years forward and we see the interaction with Luke’s son Jason and Avery’s son AJ. Any more information would spoil the plot…
The main theme of the film is fatherhood and paternal responsibility. There is a scene where Avery goes to ask for his father’s help when he has a problem, and the film goes on to show the trouble that young people can get themselves in without a healthy father-son relationship. The females in the film are reduced to wives and mothers and are constantly lied to and misunderstood by the men.
The action takes place in a sleepy town called Schenectady, New York and the surrounding forest. Over time the locations, which are revisited multiple times at key moments in the film, take on a larger significance – the most important being the forest. In the forest is where secrets are kept and uncovered. There are a number of picturesque long shots of characters driving through the forest framed beautifully by Sean Bobbitt. The other locations that are revisited multiple times are the small-town banks that Luke robs. These moments in the film were (apparently) shot in one take for added realism and then as he is followed by the police the scenes feel like documentary footage from Cops, played out without any music and shot from inside the windscreen of a car.
The film ends on a lingering wide angle shot with a tiny American flag floating in the wind. This final ironic frame is cut beautifully with The Wolves (Act I & II) by Bon Iver, which left me stunned. I watched the entire credits sequence thinking about the juxtaposition of the sense of entitlement and poverty in America today. A masterful final image.