Review by Paul Stathakis | April 16, 2013

Impressive cast in unimpressive drama

Luke (Ryan Gosling) knows how to expertly handle a motorcycle because of his job as a stunt rider at a carnival.  This is a skill that serves him well particularly when he decides to turn into a bank robber to provide financially for his lover (played by Eva Mendes) and newborn son. Then there’s Avery (Bradley Cooper), an ambitious rookie cop. His dilemma is that he’s an honest officer trying to make a difference in a department full of corrupt cops. A split-second decision that he makes (I will not reveal it because the trailer doesn’t) will come back to haunt him fifteen years later as he is campaigning to become Attorney General of New York.

Just when I thought a film starring Bradley Cooper and Ryan Gosling could never fail comes “The Place Beyond the Pines”, a dismal drama that outstays its welcome and needlessly buries itself in melodrama. Director Derek Cianfrance’s intention, I presume, was to make a compelling picture. Though there are some tense moments that are really quite effective, the rest of the film is rather disjointed. Part crime movie, part morality tale, “The Place Beyond the Pines” can’t decide where it wants to go. In terms of its structure, it is somewhat brave and different. For instance, Cooper makes a delayed appearance in the fashion of say Orson Welles in Carol Reed’s “The Third Man.” It’s a technique that not too many films today bother to incorporate. But this gamble works beautifully in “The Place Beyond the Pines” because it respectfully dedicates one half of its running time to Gosling and the other to Cooper. When you’re working with actors this popular and good, it makes sense to let them share the screen time the way Cianfrance does.

Alas, the story runs on fumes by overstretching what is otherwise a very straightforward plot. The plot becomes muddled and weighed down by too many subplots. We have Luke’s story, then Avery’s, and then another involving both of their sons. The ending is also problematic because for a film as loaded as “The Place Beyond the Pines”, its conclusion is snug and it essentially resolves everything and nothing. It’s the kind of ending that makes us wonder why we needed to sit quietly in the dark for a full 140 minutes to finally arrive at this point. Are the words “I’m sorry” truly sufficient in a vengeful situation like the one presented in “The Place Beyond the Pines”? It seems they are but why are they not uttered sooner in the film? This would’ve done away with a lot of  unnecessary drama and surely, the film would’ve had more of a backbone.

Such pictures are often character-driven. How absorbed and enthralled we become depends entirely on  how much we care about the principal characters. In the case of “The Place Beyond the Pines”, the main roles are underdeveloped. We don’t know enough about them to truly care about their fates. Yes, Gosling is convincing and he possesses the same aura of coolness like James Dean and Marlon Brando did. Cooper continues to prove that he is one of the best actors of his generation. In scenes that call on the actors to express their pains/emotions, they shine. Gosling’s performance is more subdued because he plays a man who is lost and desperate. His stare is a substitute for words. In Cooper’s case, he fits the mold of the honest and sincere cop. The good in him can be seen in the way he refuses to be corrupt and especially in the way he deals with guilt. Absolutely no one can make a case against the rousing performances because they give the film a pulse. But this is a classic case of acting gone to waste, outshone by an insipid story that says more than it needs to say. “The Place Beyond the Pines” is ultimately a lackluster picture, long in length, short on thrills, and emptier than a banker’s heart.


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