Ryan Gosling has reteamed with director Derek Cianfrance in the multi-generational drama, “The Place Beyond the Pines,” a moody and intimate film noir that deals with weighty issues like fatherhood, legacy and fate.
“The Place Beyond the Pines,” which opened March 29, is the director’s eagerly awaited follow-up to “Blue Valentine,” a close-up look at a relationship found and lost, which earned Michelle Williams an Oscar nomination.
The dream casting also features Bradley Cooper, hot after his Oscar nomination for “Silver Linings Playbook.” Gosling plays Luke, a motorcycle stunt rider who turns to robbing banks to provide for a son he just learned he had with a fling, Romina, played by Eva Mendes, in a performance as gritty and good as the one she gave in “Training Day.” (In real life Mendes and Gosling are dating.)
Cooper plays a rising rookie cop (Avery) who’s tailing Gosling’s character after a string of robberies. Avery also has daddy issues, including struggling to escape the shadow of his father, a powerful judge who pushes Avery to go to law school and into politics.
Fifteen years after the events that link Luke and Avery – a bank heist gone wrong – their sons meet as teenagers in high school, where their lives collide. They are two troubled kids struggling with inner demons and problems they inherited as a result of bad choices made by their fathers.
“This was a character who is a melting pot of every masculine cliché, tattoos, muscles, guns. It’s overkill,” Gosling said. “And when he is presented with this child that he didn’t know that he had, it’s like a mirror is held up to him and he realizes that he’s not a man at all. All of those things don’t make you a man, that at the heart of it he’s an empty person.”
His character has the notion that he can become the father he never had by providing for his son, even if the method is unrealistic and wrong. “He makes this grand gesture to his kid, which is equally as foolish as a knife under your eye,” Gosling said.
Because Gosling’s character grew up without a father, it is the last thing he wanted for his son, the director said. “He’s not going to let his son feel the way he felt when he was a kid, but he doesn’t have any tools to be a father.”
Cianfrance added, “Also, how can he get in there and provide for his kid? How can he give his kid the next step? By being a mechanic making a $100 a week? It’s not going to put his kid through school. They’re stuck. So he has to take these moves, take these risks to try to be there, to try to provide in a new way, but he ends up making these moves that take him out of his son’s life,” he said. “To me, that’s American legacy. You don’t have any choice where you’re born. I believe in nurture, but also nature.”
The film is very personal for the director. “When my wife (video artist and director Shannon Plumb, whose film “Towheads” screened at New Directors/New Films) was pregnant with our second boy in 2007, I was thinking about all this responsibility of being a father again,” he said. “I was thinking of my son coming into the world and just wanting him to be born clean, without any of my sins or my wrongdoings. I wanted him to have his own path in life.”
The “Blue Valentine” director said he was also interested in dealing with violence. “I’ve never really dealt with violence in my movies before, and I have a little bit of an allergy towards violence, and mostly towards gun violence in movies. I’m kind of sick of it. I have kids,” he said. “I don’t know when violence became the thing that was deemed so cinematic. It must have been with (Sam) Peckinpah or something, with ‘The Wild Bunch,’ but his violence to me feels truer. It feels like he’s writhing in the flames with his characters. He’s suffering with them and now there’s this fetishized violence everywhere. And I’ve got to say, if I have to see another slow motion bullet come out a gun, like pierce somebody’s cheek and make their brains splatter on the wall, I’m going to puke in my mouth.”
Cianfrance said he wanted to deal with the narrative violence. “I wanted, if a gun came into my movie, to tell the story of it, so all the events and the adrenaline that leads up to that violent encounter, and then the aftermath and the echo, because if violence happens to you in your life, it doesn’t go away. You don’t have the sanctity of a flashback to go back to a happier time. There’s no going back from it. I was interested in also telling this American story about tribalism and you’re born into these tribes in America and what happens when these tribes collide and the aftermath. How that echoes throughout, so that 15 years later was crucial to me, because that’s the story of legacy.”
Cianfrance spoke of the collaborative nature of his relationship with his star and muse. Their special alchemy propelled “Blue Valentine” – which took 12 years to make – a critical and commercial hit. Cianfrance said he’d spent six months writing the script for “The Place Beyond the Pines,” at the same time he was working on “Blue Valentine.” In 2007, during dinner with Gosling at his agent’s house, Cianfrance asked Gosling, “What haven’t you done that you want to do?”
Gosling’s curious reply: “I’ve always wanted to rob a bank.”
It turns out the script Cianfrance was working on, “The Place Beyond the Pines,” was about a man who robbed banks to support his son. He asked Gosling, “Have you given it any thought? How would you do it?”
Gosling’s response was that he would do it on a motorcycle. “Because I could go in on with a helmet and no one would know who I was. And then I’d leave on a motorcycle because they’re fast. They can get out of tight spots.” He added, “I’d have a U-Haul truck parked about four blocks away and I’d drive into the back of the U-Haul and people would be looking for a motorcycle, not a U-Haul.”
“The crazy part,” Cianfrance said, was, “that’s exactly what we’ve written into the script. I knew we were destined to work together because we had similar thoughts. I told him I’d make his dreams come true. You know, put him in a movie, and he wouldn’t have to go to jail.”