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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