SPOILERS FROM THE OUTSET
It is not made clear exactly when The Place Beyond the Pines (2013, directed by Derek Cianfrance) is set. The cars, technology, clothes and, in due course, the film’s structure lead us to conclude the first half takes places sometime around the mid-1990s. Being a solemn story the costume design generally avoids knowing clichés. If there was ever a decade ripe for mocking it is the early to mid nineties, but The Place Beyond the Pines sticks to flashes of contemporary trends applicable to its characters. Do not let Ryan Gosling’s ‘moto bandit’ Luke Glanton plastered over the marketing in paint pants and a Metallica tee fool you; this is not Drive. It may employ the same costume designer, Gosling’s regular Erin Benach, but this is not a twist on the talented yet geeky loner. Luke is a born loser with one skill to his name, and even that does not work out particularly well for him.
A born loser may be too strong a label, but Luke is not someone who had much of a life mapped out in front of him. Gosling’s costume is made up of skull and crossbones print trousers, pale jeans, a red bi-swing leather jacket, green plastic sunglasses and some extremely broken down t-shirts he wears inside out. Luke is probably aware of his coolness; he thinks he’s nonchalant and mysterious. T-shirts worn inside out with the label protruding from the neck and peppered in holes are not the kind of look anyone could carry off in real life. Luke is very much a movie anti-hero, someone you may wish to emulate yet who only exists as cool within the framework of a fictional story. If you saw a man like Luke riding into town, even if it was 1995, you would probably laugh at him. The same could be said of The Driver in Drive. Gosling made a white satin bomber jacket with embroidered scorpion; tight jeans and a toothpick appear cool because he only existed in a fabrication of real life. Try that same look yourself and, without exception, you would look like an idiot.
Eva Mendes as Romina and Ryan Gosling as Luke Glanton. The Metallica t-shirts were a tough call for costume designer Erin Benach as she had only 24 hours to gain clearance after Gosling and director Derek Cianfrance approved the look. Eventually the band gave confirmation by text right before shooting began.
Luke is on a semi-religious quest. He seeks redemption, although unlike the even more mystical Driver is ill-equipped to achieve it. Benach took Luke’s costume as far as she could. Most tricky for the 1990s on screen is the fit, especially on men. A raggedy Metallica t-shirt may still be cool today but the loose fit is completely dissimilar. Now everything is skinny and short, except jeans which, as becomes apparent when The Place Beyond the Pines jumps forward 15 years, are tight through the leg and thigh then disappear under the buttocks. Gosling’s t-shirts may have been narrowed to make them less alien to a modern audience, though overall the honestly dated styling remains intact. Luke is a man of composite parts, having acquired bits of clothing from whichever towns he’s stayed in. The tattoos too and bottle blonde hair, all represent a man in so many masks he no longer understands the person within. This idea translates to later in the story when we see Luke’s son as a teenager echoing his father’s jumbled together look. The beanie hat, skull patch, layered check shirts and low-slung pants; he is the same blood in different clothes and riding a different bike, yet peel away the characterisation and both men are the same.
The Place Beyond the Pines is a period piece. Just because it is not set fifty years ago does not make Erin Benach’s job any easier – if anything it is tougher because for many of us the era is still familiar. Eva Mendes’ character Romina is perhaps most indicative of the decade, small town seclusion or no. T-shirts under dresses, high waist stonewash jeans, tie-die, heavy ribbed cotton sweaters, she is as much a composite as Luke but due to circumstance rather than choice. Luke was doomed to failure from the day he was born, though he chose his path, those clothes, tattoos, that hair. Within the world of The Pines, he styled himself as an enigma. The Driver was aggressive but controlled, Luke is messy, a slave to his emotions. Wearing a dagger on his cheek and skulls on his pants, he may as well not have bothered with a crash helmet.
The Place Beyond the Pines is currently on general release.
© 2013 – 2014, Lord Christopher Laverty.