Derek Cianfrance’s The Place Beyond The Pines is so ambitious in reaching for its themes, it almost seems godlike in its depictions of paternal archetypes. Even gods fall though, and this is a film that grandly shows us the flaws in two very different fathers, how those qualities and the actions they generate can cause damaging rifts for their offspring and those around them years later. Cianfrance seems intent on tackling difficult subject matters with each new film he makes, spiraling systematically into the heart of human behaviour, and mine for the answers to questions which mean so much to him. Mental illness and love were areas he explored prior to this, and now he takes on fatherhood, fateful missteps included. The film is separated into two distinct and very different episodes. We begin somewhere in the 1980’s with Luke Crash (Ryan Gosling) an adrenaline junkie motocross daredevil who is all about little talk, lots of impulse and low rationality. He’s drawn along by a petty criminal (Ben Mendelsohn, superb) on a series of increasingly risky bank robberies, with notions of providing for his wife (Eva Mendes) and infant child. He takes it too far though, and tragedy strikes with the arrival of Avery (Bradley Cooper), a gung ho young police officer who suddenly finds himself in the hot seat after being branded a hero cop. The film then makes a jarring leap in both time and tone to present day. Avery is now a political candidate with powerful friends and some nasty secrets that gave him his position. He has a son (Emory Cohen) who’s on a rocky road of difficult behaviour, estranged and distant from him. Fate steps in and places Luke’s own son (Dane DeHaan) in the mix for a very volatile and prophetic outcome that brings the big picture into full circle. My favourite part of the film is the first segment, particularly the interaction between Mendelsohn and Gosling, and their dynamic. It’s so organic and unforced, everything happening with the cadence and pace that I recognize in my own life. That’s realism. It’s moody, ponderous and has an atmosphere thicker than most films dream of. It’s somewhat strangled by the abrupt change halfway through, but it’s simply one door in the narrative leading into a new room, and is neccesary once I thought about it more. What the film has to day about fathers and sons isn’t your garden variety family drama message. There’s a near Shakespearian darkness to it, the cloak of inevitability laid down by a few lightning quick moments in one’s life that arch out through the years and affect ones children in ways that were never contemplated in that one split second it took to act. Rough stuff, but endlessly fascinating. Ray Liotta does his patented corrupt dick head cop thing nicely, Rose Byrne quietly plays Cooper’s wife, and look out for Bruce Greenwood and Harris Yulin as well. After the titanic undertaking he has striven for here, I can’t wait to see what Cianfrance has in store for us next. Powerful stuff.