Luke (Ryan Gosling) is a motorcycle stuntman who tries to reunite with a former lover when he returns to her hometown after a long absence. In the time he has been gone, however, Romina (Eva Mendes) has given birth to his son and taken a new partner. In an attempt to win her affection and respect, Luke takes on a daring criminal endeavour that puts him on a crash course with rookie cop Avery Cross (Bradley Cooper), which will have far reaching repercussions.
The Place Beyond the Pines is an ambitious film that tries to tell the stories of fathers and sons whose lives are irrevocably linked together through a violent incident. The sad part is, for all its grand designs, the film cannot always deliver on its promise and over reaches and stretches itself too thin.
Ryan Gosling reteams with Blue Valentine director Derek Cianfrance, but essentially plays a chattier version of the Driver (from Drive). There is no delineation here, and while Gosling looks fantastic even in a ripped t-shirt worn inside out, this is not enough to tell us anything about the character. Gosling ends up being Goslingian (to coin a phrase), and although we are rooting for the character, we are not always sure why. Gosling is not given enough time to develop his character past the superficial and this is one of the major downfalls of the film.
Bradley Cooper fares a little better as cop Avery Cross, and manages to make his character rounded out. However, this story kicks off when another one ends, the audience finds themselves trying to connect with Cross’s story for so long, that by the time we do, the film has already moved on. Eva Mendes has little to do but look pretty, cry, shout and give Gosling something to fight for. Ray Liotta plays another corrupt cop, and his storyline does not so much end as disappear.
Derek Cianfrance take on board all of the cinematic tropes from cop movies, coming of age movies, thrillers, heist movies etc, but instead of exploring these or trying to do anything with them at all, he introduces them then allows them to fizzle out. The story should have been engaging and inclusive, but instead the audience finds themselves wondering whether anyone is going to learn from the past, and whether we are actually going to get a protagonist at all. The first segment of the film is engaging, well paced and energetic, but one the story moves off into different territory, all momentum is lost. Cianfrance has taken risks with the film, but they do not always pay off, and The Place Beyond the Pines feels like three long TV episodes tied together with the most tenuous of threads. On the positive side, the soundtrack is a heck of a lot of fun and Sean Bobbitt’s cinematography is wonderfully graceful and gritty.
The Place Beyond the Pines should have been an engaging emotional drama, and possibly would have been if the tough decisions had been made during editing. As it stands, the film collapses under the weight of its own grand designs after a gripping first hour. Gosling looks great but only manages to hit one note, and while Cooper fares better, this is too little too late. The film feels like a mash up between Drive and Blue Valentine and, since these are far superior films that give both story and character room to develop, Cianfrance’s latest offering ends up vapid and unoriginal.