The first truly good movie of the year isn’t necessarily the cinematic tour de force it’s touted as. While director Derek Cianfrance has crafted a fantastic cross-generational tale with The Place Beyond the Pines, it’s long run-time and overly explanatory narrative device muffles the overall impact of the movie. Yes, it’s a story of fathers and their sons, and how often we repeat the past due to our role models, but must it be told through three separate stories that provide diminishing returns the longer it goes on? It’s an ambitious move that unfortunately never pays off and threatens to derail the entire movie. The performances from Ryan Gosling and Bradley Cooper are worth the price of admission, but make sure to go to the bathroom ahead of time, and try not to roll your eyes too far into your head by the end.
Luke (Gosling) is an accomplished motorcycle rider who discovers a one-time fling (Eva Mendes) has bore his child. Desperate to provide for his new family, Luke takes to robbing banks. Through a series of events Luke has a run-in with beat cop Avery Cross (Cooper) whose actions create a ripple effect, changing a generation in an instant.
Cianfrance started out detailing the slow deterioration of marriage with his accomplished 2010 drama, Blue Valentine. Cianfrance eschewed from overly complicating the message of why couples break up by simply showing that sometimes there is no explanation. It was a heartfelt movie that connected with anyone who had been through a failed marriage, or was the product of it, but never preached about the ways to “fix it.” Unfortunately, Place Beyond the Pines gets far too wrapped up in the preaching, utilizing three stories to tell you the exact same thing: The sins of the father pass onto the son. Luke is a man who never knew his father and has grown up to be a criminal. In his desire to change the next generation he gets deeper into crime and pays the price. Avery’s story has even less of a connection, leaving the audience to deduce that he’s always emulated his father and has struggled to live up to his image. The third story advances fifteen years to show the products of both stories and big surprise we fall right into convention: both kids are troubled, but one more so (and you can figure it out easily based on stereotypical elements the movie provides). Had the movie focused solely on Luke and Avery, integrating their story more so that when the movie switches to Cooper completely you don’t enter into an entire new genre of storytelling, and left off the children, this could have been fantastic.
It’s a shame The Place Beyond the Pines doesn’t hit all the marks because its leading men are unstoppable. Gosling continues to hone that quiet menace he’s perfected since Drive. He’s a quiet, simple guy who you could love, but cross him and he’ll kill you without batting an eye. The movie doesn’t give much insight into Luke’s personality, and for the most part he’s a man who only thinks of the easy way out – which is explained well by Romina (Mendes) saying he “just took off” after being with her, emphasizing his selfish personality. He’s personable, electric, and a powder keg of emotions kept strictly under lock and key. Complimenting him is Bradley Cooper, proving that his work in Silver Linings Playbook was no fluke. He does play a similar, albeit less superhero-ish, creation as he did in Limitless, but he’s effective and thought-provoking. The movie ignores a lot of the complexity that should be roiling throughout his character, but Cooper gives you everything that the script doesn’t. Again, had the movie felt confident working with the two leads throughout, this movie could be utter brilliance.
However, I just can’t forget all the clichés that snowball to the conclusion. The jump forward, presenting the prodigy of both men as teens, is cliché and boring as all hell. This is where Cianfrance needs an editor because there’s only so many times you can watch two teen boys, one so misogynist (for no reason other than you get he’s an asshole) that he should be castrated, rapping and getting high before it grows old. The first two movies are a combination heist/cop corruption story, but the final plays like a tawdry CW series. The audience has been inundated with the message so ferociously, that this thirty minute sequence feels like a tacked on series of endings that would put Peter Jackson to shame. Dane DeHaan plays Gosling’s child, and I’m not seeing what everyone sees in this actor. His moody, scruffy chic looks boring and drugged out. Emory Cohen plays Cooper’s son, and no offense, but Cohen looks older than Cooper and is so terrible I couldn’t stand to watch him open his mouth. It all leads to a series of clichés including Googling someone that just makes the final thirty minutes feel like a waste. Keep in mind, before this we’ve watched Avery bust a cop/corruption scandal that’s resolved in fifteen minutes, so by this point the script just seems eager to finish up itself.
The Place Beyond the Pines is good for 2/3 of the movie, with the last third being boring as all get-out. Cooper and Gosling present bravura performances, but are smothered by a script that’s too trite for their complexities. The last half is stereotypical with a message that’s shoved down your throat with all the subtlety of a baseball bat. It’s one of the better movies out right now, but it’s frustrating in its failures.
Author: Kristen Lopez, Editor in Chief
Kristen Lopez is the editor-in-chief of CC2K and a freelance pop culture essayist. Her work has appeared on Roger Ebert, The Hollywood Reporter, and The Daily Beast. When she’s not burning down Film Twitter she runs two podcasts, the female-centric film show Citizen Dame, and the classic film-themed Ticklish Business.