The Place Beyond the Pines Review–The Trouble With Heroes

Warning: This review contains spoilers, please do not read if you do not want to know what happens in the movie. 



The Place Beyond the Pines (2012) directed by Derek Cianfrance, tells three overlapping stories.  The first story follows Luke(Ryan Gosling),  a stunt car racer.  Essentially, his story is about a troubled man searching for happiness but in the wrong ways.  The second half of the movie is about a rookie cop named Avery (Bradley Cooper). The core of his story is about him trying to make amends for his actions but losing himself in the process. The final story takes place fifteen years later, the main character of this part is Luke’s son, Jason (Dane  DeHaan).  Jason’s story involves one of the major themes of the movie: justice for the father at the expense of the son.

Plot Summary:

After learning he has a son, Luke begins robbing banks to support his family.  His ex lover Romina (Eva Mendes) has created a life without him, and she does not want him involved in her life anymore.  However, his inability to let go and violent tendencies continues to inflict pain on Romina and their son.  One day, he gets caught in a high speed chase with Avery.   Luke is murdered and Avery becomes the local hero. Avery pretends to be okay with the death, but he is haunted by it.

As Avery gets more involved in the local police force, he starts to see the corruption. He’s conflicted at first about where his loyalties lie, but he chooses to reveal the police crimes. Avery uses his knowledge to become assistant Attorney General and bring down the force.

Fifteen years later, he is now a divorced, respected politician running for Attorney General.  After some misbehaviors, his son, AJ (Emory Cohen) now wants to live with him.  Avery is reluctant at first, but later decides to let AJ move in.  At school AJ meets Jason, Luke’s son, which leads to Jason finding out the truth about his father.  This climaxes into an an emotional and dangerous confrontation between Avery and Jason. In the end, Jason and Avery both follow in their father’s foot steps. Avery by becoming Attorney General, and Jason by becoming a nomad.

Important Themes:

A clear theme of the movie is sons repeating the mistakes of their fathers. Avery becomes exactly what his father wanted him to be, and Jason almost becomes a criminal like his father. However, one of the less obvious themes is the blurry lines between heroes and villains.

By definition, Luke is the villain of the story. He’s a violent criminal.  However, everything Luke does is for his family. This makes him sacrificial, which is a trait of a hero.   Avery by definition should be the hero. He kills a criminal and works for the law. But the more he gets involved with the police, he starts to see their corruption. Corruption is one of the strongest traits of villains. Avery questioning the murder of Luke shows that his action may not have been as heroic as they are portrayed.  He later helps stop the crimes taking place in the police force, which is a heroic act, because he’s standing up for what is morally right. However, he uses his knowledge to secure a better job, which means his actions are not selfless, like a hero’s would be.

The third part of the movie shows that everyone is both a hero and a villain.   Avery is now an important man, but he got there through blackmail, betrayal and lying.  All villainous acts. AJ is just a delinquent who causes his father trouble.The same goes for Jason. These are more characteristics of villains.   However, by the end of the movie, they all become both heroes and villains. Jason commits a vile act of almost killing AJ and Avery, but he redeems himself by letting them both live. Therefore, executing a heroic act and a villainous one.  Avery conducts a heroic act by apologizing for killing Luke and letting Jason go without turning him in for his crimes. But, he still becomes the Attorney General after using blackmail to get that far politically. AJ is neither redeemed nor  persecuted for his crimes. We are given no clear answer on whether AJ will become a hero by learning from his mistakes or stay a villain by repeating them.

By the end, no one is completely free of sin, but no one is too sinful for forgiveness.  Everyone is just human.

Overall Impression:

The Place Beyond the Pines has many stunning performances, especially from Gosling, Mendes,  Cooper and Dehaan.  The story has many strong points, especially the first hour of the movie. However, there are a lot of slow buildup in the film, and the third portion feels very underdeveloped.

We don’t learn enough about AJ and Jason to truly care about them. In fact, AJ is a loathsome character who never gets redeemed. Jason has more potential as a character, but his final acts seem unrealistic. Jason has no knowledge of his father until he google searches him. Therefore, any facts he learns about him are probably told in a manner to make Luke seem like a terrible criminal.  However, he still feels the need to get revenge for his father’s death, which doesn’t make sense, because he has no indication of his father being worthy of avenging.  Unless we as viewers are supposed to believe he is just seeking revenge for the principle of avenging his father.


Overall, The Place Beyond the Pines has a really strong story, but it tries to tell too much story. In doing this, some elements of the film suffer. The movie works better as just the third storyline with flashbacks from the first two stories. This allows the viewers to have stronger bonds with AJ and Jason.  Therefore, giving a more satisfactory conclusion. Instead the ending felt incomplete and hallow with the movies current story format.



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