by NEVIL GIBSON
The latter half of the 1950s in Hollywood were times of big budgets and big ideas that reflected a period of relative prosperity after decades of war and hardship.
It was a time when genres such the western and the thriller flourished, but the longest lasting legacy was the family melodrama, usually based on blockbuster novels.
Some were heavily skewed towards women, such as Written on the Wind, Imitation of Life and The Magnificent Obsession. But there were also melodramas about men, starring the likes of Marlon Brando (On the Waterfront), Paul Newman (Suddenly Last Summer, Hud) and, most famously, James Dean (Rebel Without a Cause, Giant and East of Eden).
One of the earliest female melodramas was Mildred Pierce, recently remade as a brilliant TV mini-series. Another remake was 2002’s Far From Heaven (originally All That Heaven Allows) while Revolutionary Road (2008) was also a good stab at the genre. The Fighter (2010) could be considered a male melodrama while this year’s Silver Linings Playbook has parallels.
Unusually, The Place Beyond the Pines (Roadshow) is an original screenplay and traces two generations in distinct parts. It concerns fathers and sons in a small-town setting — actually Schenectady in upstate New York — where otherwise mundane lives are dislocated by a shattering event.
Two stars, Ryan Gosling and Bradley Cooper, respectively play a heavily tattooed motorcycle stunt rider and a highly educated, ambitious cop.
Their separate lives meet briefly at a time when both have just become fathers, one in a settled middle class environment and the other much less so because the mother (Eva Mendes) is in another relationship and trying to overcome her brief fling with the volatile and unpredictable Gosling. He is passing through town again when he decides it’s time to settle down.
Halfway through, the story moves to the next generation where the sons are now in their mid-teens, go to the same high school and become friends in a testy relationship that also challenges both sets of parents.
By then Cooper is running for political office, while estranged from his wife (Rose Byrne) and son. The last thing he needs is for the stuff of melodrama — skeletons in the cupboard — to emerge and upset his goal.
Writer-director Derek Cianfrance first made an impression with Blue Valentine (also starring Gosling) and says his screenplay reflects his thinking on trans-generational legacies, not to mention the moral conclusions he draws from them.
This is a high-stakes story that could easily have degenerated into the unbelievable, although the contrasting sons do defy credibility in their sketchy characterisations.
The echoes of parental heredity being passed on to the troubled teenagers in East of Eden cannot be ignored. But any flaws are overcome by the forceful narrative, sub-themes about corruption, duty and redemption, and acting that holds the viewer to the end.
Rating: 16 years and over; 140 minutes.
by NEVIL GIBSON