The Place Beyond the Pines starts off with a bang! We first meet Luke (Ryan Gosling) in his surreal work environment at a carnival as an extreme motorcyclist who sees an old fling, Romina, (Eva Mendez) waiting for him outside the tent one night after the show.
Ryan Gosling's fling with Romina seems to have been based on physical attraction alone and it is clear that Luke is a loner with no direction in life. Luke learns that Romina has a son and that the baby is his. From this point on Luke tries to hold down a steady job at a mechanic's shop but can't seem to make enough money to get by, let alone support his son and Romina. Luke doesn't have a meaningful conversation with Romina about his parental role as a father and has an attitude that if only he had more money he could be a better father. Luke's convinced himself that he can make it work for his new family even though Romina is currently living with her new boyfriend who is fathering her son.
This is such a sad turning point in the movie and reveals Luke's serious moral and ethical flaws. Luke has a very limited understanding of family and what constitutes a meaningful relationship. From here on out the plot revolves around a cop named Avery (Bradley Cooper), and his family whose lives have been brought together with Luke's under unfortunate and tragic circumstances. There are more twists and turns that unravel when Luke and Avery's high school age boys become unexpected friends. Their relationship is more about them coming of age and their individual rites of passage into adulthood and what that will entail for each of them is both heart-wrenching to watch but quiet epic.
Overall, the The Place Beyond the Pines is about the intertwined lives of all the characters in the small town of Schenectady, NY that Luke touched in some way and about how family affects our perception of ourselves and shapes our future even when their only legacy is the baggage they leave behind.