Film Review – The Place Beyond The Pines
The Place Beyond The Pines tells the story of…actually, it tells three different stories, none of which pay off at the end. Its director, Derek Cianfrance, previously made the doomed romance Blue Valentine (2010). While I was not as keen as others on that film, there was plenty about it that I admired. This film, unfortunately, feels like a step down. It is overly bloated, cramming in plot threads that really deserve feature length movies of their own, and culminates in an anticlimax that doesn’t serve any necessary purpose. Its ambition works as a detriment, losing realistic footing because of the abundant elements it tries to express. What we get is an epic disguised as an intimate character study—an unbalanced juggling act of family, crime, honor, and consequence.
We first meet the tattooed rebel, Luke (Ryan Gosling). Luke is a talented motorcycle stunt rider, earning a living performing in a traveling carnival. Luke is a quiet person, content in his near-wanderer lifestyle. That is, until his fling with Romina (Eva Mendes) ends with the birth of a son, Jason. Determined to be a part of Romina’s and Jason’s life, Luke quits his carnival job. However, this decision has two major problems that accompany it—the first being that Luke is now stranded without a way to make ends meet for them, and the second being Romina’s current boyfriend, Kofi (Mahershala Ali), who has a stable job and a home for her and Jason. Desperate, Luke settles for extreme measures, using his motorcycle skills to rob banks for the quick cash he needs.
On the opposite end of the spectrum is police officer Avery Cross (Bradley Cooper). Determined and straight-laced, Avery takes pride in doing the right thing. When an incident occurs involving Avery twisting the truth (leaving him a local hero), he begins to have an inner battle with his conscience. Like Luke, Avery also wants to provide for his wife, Jennifer (Rose Byrne), and their baby boy, AJ. But his sense of honor conflicts with the growing corruption he finds within his own department. Exposing the truth could very well put him and his family in danger, and risk any chance he has at advancing his career.
Both Luke’s and Avery’s stories are interesting on their own, and I can see how each would work if they had the opportunity to be stretched out to feature length. Ryan Gosling calls on the same stoic intimidation factor that worked for him in Drive (2011), and Bradley Cooper exhibits a good amount of vulnerability under his character’s skin. In fact, Avery is the more fascinating character, because he has to deal with both the moral issues that made him a hero and those which call for him to gamble everything to restore justice within the police force. But the fact that both exist in the same movie is what causes problems. There is a direct shift that happens in the middle of the plot; once we start to get involved with one of the characters, everything changes and we are introduced to others. What a viewer might expect to see going in gets flipped around. This change is unexpected and sudden, and gravely hinders the narrative flow.
Worst of all is how both storylines eventually converge together. The third act is clearly the weakest stretch, as we jump forward in time to see how the decisions both Luke and Avery made affected their respective families. To say that their connection is “contrived” would be putting it mildly. I’m being purposefully vague here, as to describe the details would be to reveal important spoilers. What starts out as an engaging set-up of two individuals leads to a plot twist that is not believable, belonging more to a second-rate melodrama. What is this third act supposed to say? Are the screenwriters (Cianfrance/Ben Coccio/Darius Marder) telling us that criminality and dishonor live in a cycle destined to repeat itself over and over? That the choices we make today will have lasting impact down the road? Movies don’t require a message to be successful, but this one seems to build everything towards its major twist, and offer nothing more after.
The Place Beyond The Pines overstays its welcome with muddled plotting and an unclear ending. The further it moves along, the weaker it gets. With the amount of talent involved, this should have been a better film. It tries too hard to fit certain pieces together when they obviously do not match. The actors do what they can to keep us connected, but no amount of good acting can hide the reality that this is three movies mashed into one. It’s like listening to a handful of songs you don’t really care about, all at the same time.
Final Grade: C+
Also, be sure to check out our interview with writer/director Derek Cianfrance.