Review: The Place Beyond the Pines (2013)

The Place Beyond the Pines

Rating

Director
Derek Cianfrance
Screenplay
Derek Cianfrance, Ben Coccio, Darius Marder
Length
140 min.
Starring
Ryan Gosling, Eva Mendes, Mahershala Ali, Ben Mendelsohn, Bradley Cooper, Rose Byrne, Bruce Greenwood, Gabe Fazio, Ray Liotta, Dan DeHaan, Emory Cohen
MPAA Rating
R for language throughout, some violence, teen drug and alcohol use, and a sexual reference

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Review
Director Derek Cianfrance follows up his mesmerizing relationship drama Blue Valentine with a lugubrious exploration of choices and ramifications that complicate life while pursuing happiness.

Three linked acts tell the story of two families whose lives are inexorably connected. Ryan Gosling plays Luke, a stunt motorcycle driver who decides to embark on a life of crime to help carve out a successful and profitable life for the young son his ex-girlfriend Romina (Eva Mendes) now raises with her adoring husband Kofi (Mahershala Ali). When he’s killed in the aftermath of one of his many robberies by young cop Avery (Bradly Cooper), who’s starting up a life of his own with wife Jennifer (Rose Byrne), the two families become inextricably connected as they grow older and their children grow older together.

The first act follows Luke and his exploits, the second explores Avery’s. The final act looks at the resultant adventures of their children, both perpetually in trouble. Luke’s son Jason (Dane DeHaan) is a troubled teen trying to acclimate to a culture that looks down on him because of his upbringing while Avery’s son AJ (Emory Cohen) resents his father’s absence and strikes out against him the only way a spoiled rich kid knows how.

Cianfrance’s film is an uneven follow-up, exploring the lives of too many characters and exploring corruption, recrimination, revenge and happenstance with equal parts interest and disdain. For every aspect of the characters we like, there are numerous flaws that inhibit our ability to appreciate them.

Strangely, the figure who has the most impact on the dirction of the film and who seems to have the most sympathetic character doesn’t appear in two-thirds of the film. His nobility, if you can consider a Jesse James-styled criminal entirely noble, comes from his desire to make things right with his ex and his son, a boy who he will never get to see grow up even though he desires nothing more. His history is a stumbling block for Romina and her movement towards a new relationship only hastens the inevitable crumbling of their tentative tolerance.

As a director of small, intimate stories, Cianfrance is a masterful craftsmen, bringing us deep into the lives of his characters and their flaws, understanding and accepting them while they bumble through life. In The Place Beyond the Pines, his scope is expanded, as are his characters. While they are admittedly detailed, they aren’t incredibly deep.

Cooper delivers one of his better performances, but Gosling’s even temperament and emotionally vacant performance is a touch too distracting at times. The female characters aren’t given nearly enough to do and when the film delves into police corruption, it begins to lose focus. Ray Liotta plays the kind of role he’s grown to accustomed to, leaving the audience with little choice but to feel thwarted by a repetitive personality. The segments segue nicely, but aren’t as cohesive as they need to be.

The two actors playing the teenage byproducts of differing, but stunted parenting, Cohen and DeHaan, are the film’s greatest assets. Had we seen this movie constructed as three separate films instead of a fractured triptych, things might have worked together a bit better. As such, The Place Beyond the Pines is a sometimes disjointed, overlong narrative that has bits of brilliance marred by its unwieldy construction.
Review Written
July 2, 2014

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