The Place Beyond the Pines
Luke is a carnival motorcycle stunt performer. It isn't rocket science, but he's good at it.
Luke is also a father … though he doesn't know it until after the kid's been born. So I guess you could say he's not quite as good at that.
The boy's mom? Oh, she's just some pretty one-night stand from when he passed through her town the year before. Uh, Romina was her name. Yeah, that's it. But as careless as Luke was with her, this child changes everything for him. Call it a sense of guilt. Call it memories of growing up without a dad of his own. Call it whatever you want. Luke just feels like he's got to leave the carnival and look after his new … family?
Of course, non-motorcycle-stunt job opportunities for someone with his limited skill set are scarce. And so it seems natural that bank robbery is the only sensible path to some quick cash.
Meanwhile, Avery is a young cop, fresh on the beat. He's not as good at policing as Luke is at motorcycling, but he's learning as he goes. And it's he who ends up chasing the masked motorcycle rider who's just recently started hitting all the local banks.
After a wipeout, the crazy motorcyclist holes up in a neighborhood house. And Avery's got to calm his nerves enough to go in after him. He and Luke have a forceful, fateful encounter, and Avery is left with some serious baggage he didn't expect. Call it a feeling of guilt. Call it a sense of responsibility to his own son. Call it whatever you want. Suddenly there are heavy choices that have to be made.
Fifteen years later two teenagers have something of a chance meeting. They strike up a friendship unaware that their paths first crossed many years before. They smoke some weed. Score some X. But with time, the newfound buds—Jason, son to Luke, and AJ, son to Avery—are left to deal with those choices their fathers made.
Call it guilt, responsibility or anger. Call it whatever you want. Something's got to be done.
It can easily be said that both Luke and Avery initially intend to do the right thing. Luke truly believes that he should be a part of his newly revealed son's life. Avery wants to be a good cop and dispense justice on the street. (Their good intentions don't hold, though. More on that later.)
Kofi—Romina's live-in boyfriend and eventual husband—stands by Romina and her children. He tells Jason, who is 17, "I'm your father. I've been there since you were born, and I've always loved you."
For a time, Avery does try to make amends for the bad things he's done. And when he comes face-to-face with how much he's wronged Jason, he apologizes to the young man.
We see baby Jason dedicated in a church baptismal service that includes references to "sharing everlasting life in Jesus Christ" and concludes with the Lord's Prayer. During his first bank robbery, Luke "suggests" that frightened patrons get down on their knees and pray.
Luke and Romina lie naked in bed in each other's arms. Luke covers her exposed breast with his hand. Jason, blitzed on pills and booze, starts making out with a girl at a party. They stagger upstairs where she pulls off her shirt, revealing her bra.
There are magazine pictures of bikini girls pinned up on the walls of a garage where Luke works. Girls sport cleavage and tight clothing at a party. Guys' torsos get screen time too. When we first see Romina, she's wearing a T-shirt that makes it plain she's not wearing anything underneath.
Luke and Kofi scuffle; Luke hits Kofi with a tool, splitting his brow with a bloody gash. Luke jams a pistol in his bank robbing sidekick's mouth. And he uses firearms in his robberies, of course. AJ and Jason get into a tussle, and AJ pins the smaller teen down, beating his face bloody. Then the badly bruised Jason gets a gun, shoots at AJ and eventually gives him a nasty concussion (offscreen).
Avery angrily grabs his son by the throat. [Spoiler Warning] He breaks down a bedroom door and shoots Luke in the face—sending him falling out a second story window to smash his skull open on the pavement below. (Luke manages to shoot Avery in the leg.) Blood covers the fallen man's face and a large pool of it gushes out beneath him. Jason takes Avery out in the woods at gunpoint where he plans to shoot him dead. (He stops just short.)
After getting a flat tire during a chase with police, Luke takes a spill, sliding his bike into the side of a truck.
Crude or Profane Language
Close to 150 f-words and about 25 s-words. A few uses of "p‑‑‑y," "d‑‑k," "h‑‑‑" and "a‑‑." Jesus' name is abused four or five times. God's name is misused.
Drug and Alcohol Content
Luke and Robin (his fellow heister) are chain smokers; cigarettes perpetually hang off their bottom lips. And young AJ and Jason both mirror that look. The kids also get high together smoking weed and—after Jason sneaks behind a druggist's counter and steals a bottle of Oxycodone—popping pills chased with gulps of whiskey. AJ doles the Oxy out at his party to beer-drinking teens. AJ and Jason buy Ecstasy. (They're arrested for it.) Others drink beer or wine.
Other Negative Elements
Luke and Avery both quickly abandon their initial good directions, letting dishonest and law-breaking actions obliterate the positives. And note that there's really not anyone else in the film who might be held up as an antidote. (Kofi, in some ways, excepted.) Avery's comrades in law enforcement are generally portrayed as corrupt. (When Avery tries to reveal the truth about corrupt activities in the squad, it's made very plain that overseeing officers intend to continue looking the other way.) And average folks are routinely pushed to poor choices by merely the angst of life.
Luke vomits from the tension of his first robbery. Cops make a few crude jokes about Avery's wife's controlling ways; she and Avery divorce.
You could call this sprawling generational pic introspective and well-acted. And you might be able to see it as a cautionary tale if you squint hard enough. Then, if you're feeling particularly generous and spiritual, you could say that the film's dreary tale symbolically depicts the fallen nature of man and the way a father's sins reverberate through the lives of his sons.
You might wonder if the scriptwriter had just read Exodus 34:6-7 right before he put the plot together. That passage reads, "The Lord passed before him and proclaimed, 'The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children's children, to the third and the fourth generation.'"
But there's something missing here. Well, quite a few somethings, to be truthful. The Place Beyond the Pines is a two-and-a-half hour film that feels like six as it dwells (obsesses) on the downhill-pooling misery and long-range negative impact of terrible decisions. And it never lets up. There's no hope here. No hint of redemption. No ups to match the downs. No joys to counter the sorrows.
The one relatively consistent father figure in the mix is ultimately shunted aside as an inconsequential aberration to the norm. And that norm includes not just a constant torrent of foul language, but the millstone weight of mere survival, the expectation that teens will turn to drugs as a rite of passage, and the steel-yourself surety that everything (everything!) will eventually corrupt and be ground into the grit of heavy guilt and purple rage.