Derek Cianfrance, writer-director of the second-rate Blue Valentine, has a respectable film in The Place Beyond the Pines (2013). The three-part chronicle proffers Luke Glanton (Ryan Gosling), a virile stunt motorcyclist who finds out the tiny son of ex-lover Romina (Eva Mendes) is his, and thus he longs to support the child. Whence comes the money? Luke starts acquiring it by robbing banks, but Robin, the pal who assists him, is alarmed at Luke’s inordinateness. The cops don’t like it either: A policeman named Avery Cross (Bradley Cooper) goes after the robber. As it turns out, Avery’s story has to do not just with Luke but also with Luke’s son, once he becomes a teenager, and with a bevy of corrupt cops.
The movie runs 2 hours and 20 minutes, and after more than half of that time is over, the script turns thoroughly schematic and relies too much on coincidence. Yet it holds us, and is meaningful. Cianfrance is an artist, one who doesn’t always make good choices, but an artist nonetheless. There is a more skillful representation of people in this film than in Blue Valentine. The story takes place in Schenectady, New York—in an America where people’s lives are regularly running off the rails. They resort to crime and drug abuse and one-night stands that produce babies. Hence it’s a running-off-the-rails that ought to lead to humility (to humble penitence), but often it is only the glaring error of an honorable man that leads to humility. Such is the case with Avery.
Who will make up an honorable America in the future?