Synopsis: A motorcycle stunt rider turns to robbing banks as a way to provide for his lover and their newborn child, a decision that puts him on a collision course with an ambitious rookie cop navigating a department ruled by a corrupt detective.
Stars: Ryan Gosling, Bradley Cooper, Eva Mendes, Ray Liotta, Rose Byrne, Mahershala Ali, Dane DeHaan, Emory Cohen, Ben Mendelsohn
Director: Derek Cianfrance
Running Length: 141 minutes
Trailer Review: Here
TMMM Score: (6/10)
Review: The ads for The Place Beyond the Pines would have you believe that Gosling is the star of the show and I’d say that’s about 1/3 right. In actuality, Gosling is just one part of a film that is essentially a three act saga that winds up feeling a little Scorcese/Coppola-lite. It’s not that director Cianfrance’s second narrative feature doesn’t have its good moments, because when you factor in some hard hitting corruption mixed with cops and robbers mayhem it certainly does. No, what keeps the movie from being fully satisfying is its hesitation to move toward completion in the face of a slightly saggy running time.
Reteaming with his Blue Valentine star (and I’ll say again that Gosling was unjustly overlooked for an Oscar nomination for his work in that tough love movie), Cianfrance decides to go big or go home as he follows the lives of two different men across fifteen years – both are men trying to do good from different angles so the movie really emerges from the Venn Diagram this creates.
Opening with Gosling as a tattooed cyclist faced with finding a way to support a child he didn’t know he had, the film gets off to a rough start with a soundtrack that drowns out our actors and asks us to strain to hear what Gosling and co-star Mendes are softly murmuring about. Director Robert Altman made overlapping dialogue his calling card and I’m hoping that Cianfrance isn’t taking it a step further with a film where you may need the benefit of closed captioning to figure out what people are saying. It really doesn’t matter all that much because the basic thrust of this slice of life is the standard “man turns to crime to support family” set-up.
Don’t get me wrong, Gosling plays this troubled guy like a pro and the further he ventures away from the right side of the law (with the help of a slightly askew but nevertheless fascinating performance from Mendelsohn) the more we fear for his future. That future collides with rookie cop Cooper (fresh from his Oscar nominated work in Silver Linings Playbook and before May’s The Hangover Part III) and that’s when the film takes its first of many turns. Cooper’s cop is a do-gooder, unfazed by the temptation of corruption and naïve to the danger this poses to his career and family. With a new son of his own and a wife (Byrne, Bridesmaids) who just may wear the pants in the family, Cooper doesn’t let himself get pushed around by his comrades headed up by Liotta who hasn’t yet met a scumbag he can’t play like a harp.
It’s from Cooper’s story that the film takes another jump and I think I’ll leave where that leads to your discovery. I will say that it’s in this third act where the movie will either seal the deal or leave you cold – the more I ponder the film the more unhappy I grow with it because of this section that feels too on-the-nose, too pre-destined to really be believable. One interesting thing about the final section is that it features Cohen (TV’s Smash) and DeHaan (Lawless, Chronicle), both of whom may remind you of A-Listers Channing Tatum and Leonardo DiCaprio, respectively.
Cianfrance and cinematographer Sean Bobbitt keep the movie going at breakneck speed but when it drags during its 141 minute run time the film struggles to right itself with a conclusion that satiates. I’m not a person that needs all the questions answered by a film and actually prefer that not everything is explained but The Place Beyond the Pines feels like it never knew the answers to begin with. Instead of creating characters and situations that feel new, Cianfrance and co-screenwriters Ben Coccio and Darius Marder look back at any number of crime archetypes found in film.
A trip to The Place Beyond the Pines may not be essential or necessary but the movie’s not a total wash so I don’t want to outright discourage a viewing of it should the interest be there on your part. Despite the dialogue problems I mentioned above, the film has an unobtrusive score from Mike Patton that works with the sparse world Cianfrance has created. Aside from a make-up design that ages all the women but seems to make the men younger, performances are sound and the movie does have several scenes with a decent amount of payoff.