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Film / The Place Beyond the Pines

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"If you ride like lightning, you'll crash like thunder."

The Place Beyond the Pines is a 2013 crime drama directed by Derek Cianfrance. Ryan Gosling plays Luke Glanton, a motorcycle stunt driver in Upstate New York who gives up his carefree life on the state fair circuit after finding out that he fathered a child with a one-night-stand (Eva Mendes). Unfortunately, the child's mother has moved on and started a new relationship, and Luke's desire to become a part of his child's life, and provide financially for him, leads to him embarking on a life of crime, robbing banks and escaping via his motorcycle.

Unfortunately for him, a rookie cop named Avery Cross (played by Bradley Cooper) shoots and kills Luke after Luke makes one last heist without his partner/mentor. The film then switches protagonists, as we follow Avery Cross as he struggles with the guilt of killing a fellow young father and the wholesale corruption of his local police department. Avery ultimately decides to burn his bridges with the department, exposing his corrupt colleagues and launching a new career for himself, as he becomes a prosecutor for the local DA's office.

It's at this point that the film AGAIN switches protagonists as move ahead about 16 years, as the film now focuses upon Avery Cross and Luke Glanton's children. Avery has divorced his wife and shunned his son, in order to focus on his career, campaigning for Attorney General of New York. Unfortunately, his son AJ has begun to rebel and do drugs, forcing Avery's dad to take him in hopes that he can keep his son out of trouble. AJ befriends Jason, Luke's son who like his dad is a motorcyclist and deeply resentful of his mom and stepdad, who have kept Jason utterly clueless about his biological father's identity. When the truth about their fathers is revealed to Jason, Avery must save his son and stop Jason from self-destructing like his dad did.

This film provides examples of:

  • Ambiguously Gay: Robin, toward Luke. It's not exactly clear if Robin is just lonely and needs a friend or if he's actually in love with Luke.
  • The Atoner: Avery. After he kills Luke and unwittingly joins De Luca and the other dirty cops in taking the stolen money from Romina, his conscience eventually gets the better of him. First, he tries to give his cut of the money back to Romina, but is rejected. Next, he brings the money to his superior, hoping to expose the corruption, only to find that his superior was well aware of the corruption and isn't going to do anything about it. He then suspects his life is in danger, and provides information to the District Attorney that exposes De Luca and his men in exchange for an Assistant D.A. position.
  • Betty and Veronica: The wandering biker thief Luke is the "Veronica" and the responsible, family-man Kofi is the "Betty" to Romina's "Archie". At one point, Romina had an affair with Luke despite being with Kofi, but after the former assaulted the latter for a minor reason, she decided to dump him. By the time skip, she is Happily Married with Kofi.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Avery was elected as the new D.A. with the implications of him and A.J.'s relationship improving in the future. But, Jason decides to leave to parts unknown and sends a letter to his mother with the picture of her, him as a baby, and Luke in front of the ice-cream store.
  • Can't Get Away with Nuthin': The two boys in the third chapter buy some ecstasy. They are arrested by a whole police squad the second they leave the dealer's house.
  • Cluster F-Bomb: Luke speaks almost entirely in shrill obscenities while robbing banks, showing that he's hardly a pro at this sort of thing.
  • Consummate Professional: Surprisingly, Robin. At least, as far as bank-robbing goes. He knows how to be cautious and not to get greedy. He also knows when to stop. In the end, after fifteen years, he is never arrested or even suspected of being involved.
  • Creator Provincialism: Derek Cianfrance wrote the script based on the town his wife Shannon Plumb grew up in, Schenectady, New York. The film was mostly filmed there on-location. The phrase "Place Beyond the Pines" is actually the Native American meaning to the word "Schenectady."
  • Didn't Think This Through: A lot of Luke's problems are a result of his acting on impulse.
  • Dirty Cop: Everyone on the force but Avery, who isn't exactly perfect either. Embodied most in Peter De Luca.
  • Disappeared Dad: Luke was unaware he even had a son. Becomes a permanent one when he is shot by Avery.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: AJ beating the hell out of Jason after latter confronts him at the house party.
  • Double-Meaning Title: The title refers to the translated meaning of Schenectady, the setting, as well as to a secluded spot in the forest of relevence to all three storylines.
  • Dropped a Bridge on Him: Again, Luke. To a first time viewer unaware of the film's episodic structure, his death is remarkably early and abrupt.
  • From Bad to Worse: Luke's last bank robbery goes wrong in so many ways. First, Robin dismantles his beloved motorbike, forcing him to buy a newer, less efficient one. As soon as he arrives at the bank, Luke realizes he forgot his sunglasses, leaving the tattoo near his eye exposed. Upon entering, he discovers that there are now tall security barriers between him and the tellers (likely as a result of his previous robberies). Then the tellers keep having trouble tossing the bag of money over the barriers. When he finally gets outside, the bike won't start. By the time it does start, the police arrive and begin chasing him across town. Then Luke gets a flat tire in the middle of the chase and wipes out. He's forced to invade some poor family's suburban home, where he gets shot and killed before he even has the chance to give himself up.
  • Guile Hero: Avery, by using the police corruption scandal in his precinct to bag himself an Assistant District Attorney's position. Though, given the way the he achieved this, one might consider him a Manipulative Bastard.
  • Halfway Plot Switch: More like Thirdway Plot Switch, and another at the 2/3rds mark.
  • Hero Antagonist: Avery, in the final scene of Luke's chapter. After killing Luke, he steps in as the protagonist.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Luke Glanton and Avery Cross. They are both deeply flawed men, who nevertheless mean well and want to provide for their loved ones.
  • Karma Houdini:
    • Robin has committed in the past, but never gets caught.
    • Avery, who mostly gets away with shooting (and killing) Luke first.
    • Romina makes Luke think he has a chance with her, and even sleeps with him while with Kofi. She had played them both.
  • Knuckle Tattoos: Luke has H-A-N-D tattooed onto the knuckles of his right hand and S-O-M-E on the left.
  • Like Father, Like Son: Luke and Jason. Avery and his father. Less so with Avery and A.J.
  • Mr. Fanservice: Gosling, shirtless in the opening scene.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Avery experiences this after killing Luke Glanton. The horrifying memory of his death, the fact that he may have shot him when he didn't have to, and the knowledge that he had an infant son as well all weighs heavily on Avery's mind.
  • Never Trust a Trailer: The film's trailer hides the fact that Luke dies at the end of the first act, that Officer Avery does not show up until 30 minutes into the film, and the whole "three-act, three connected storylines" arc of the film.
  • Odd Friendship: Luke and Robin. It later becomes something of a Villainous Friendship when they start robbing banks together.
  • The Oner: The opening shot, which follows Luke from his trailer to the globe of death.
  • Retirony: Averted. Robin retires from bank robbing and gets away clean, while Luke decides to go solo, with no intention of stopping, and ends up dead.
  • Small Role, Big Impact: Robin has the shortest amount of screen-time, but moves the plot along. First, he introduces Luke to doing thefts for money which would indirectly lead to Luke's death. And after the Time Skip, Robin shows Jason the picture of his father's killer, Avery which leads to the climax.
  • Spiritual Sequel:
    • The first act, to Drive (2011): Both characters were stuntmen who used vehicles as part of their employment, both were taken in and given a job in a low paying mechanic job where they found them selves doing a crooked sideline to make extra cash, they were also pretty soft spoken but had an air of understated charisma, they both ended up in a precarious predicament due to their criminal activity as well as getting angry with their boss/friend.
    • The second act is this in some ways to Narc.
    • Dane DeHaan's character arc in the third act is somewhat similar to Chronicle.
  • Tattooed Crook: Luke is covered in tattoos, most notably a creepy dagger dripping blood in the corner of his eye. His bank-robbing outfit is designed to cover up all of his distinguishing tattoos.
  • Too Clever by Half: Invoked by the D.A., Bill Killcullen when Avery tries to shake his hand after pressuring him into making him Assistant District Attorney by betraying his friend and fellow cop to expose police corruption in his department.
    Killcullen: I'm not shaking your hand. I'll make you Assistant DA, but I won't shake your fucking hand. You're too smart for your own good.
  • Troubled, but Cute: Luke Glanton, in a nutshell.
  • Villainous Breakdown: Luke, after he is rejected by Romina and his final bank robbery goes awry.
  • Villain Protagonist: Luke himself is a motorcycle rider and subsequently, a bank robber who pulls off bank heists alongside Robin. Though he is technically a Decoy Protagonist when he is killed off by Avery.
  • You Killed My Father: Jason tries to kill Avery because of this, but decides to spare his life afterwards.