The Place Beyond the Pines

2013 - 140 minutes

Rated: R

Directed by: Derek Cianfrance

Written by: Derek Cianfrance, Ben Coccio, Darius Marder

Starring: Ryan Gosling, Bradley Cooper, Eva Mendes, Ray Liotta, Bruce Greenwood, Rose Byrne, Emory Cohen, Dane DeHaan

The Place Beyond the Pines begins with a deep breath heard through the black before we fade in. I give the film credit for being bold, but it sometimes crosses the line into pretension and shallow melodrama – beginning with its opening moments.

We see the breaths belong to Luke (Ryan Gosling); first introduced to his tattooed, chiseled abs inside his trailer waiting to perform in a traveling carnival. The camera follows Luke out his trailer and tails behind him as he walks through the festive yet drab carnival atmosphere to a tent where he straps on a leather jacket, hops on a motorcycle and enters a steel globe with two fellow riders for some high speed stunts.

This sequence sort of encapsulates the experience of the film. It slows down too much in attempts at drama that doesn’t have a lot of depth, and then it speeds up too fast to push the story forward. And there is a lot of story to get through. 

The film is split up into three distinct sections that cover a long timeline, which allows for an interesting look at actions and their consequences on the next generation; but also makes for a fragmented experience where we’re shown the pieces but they don’t quite fit into something that completely works.

A very obviously braless Romina (strong performance from Eva Mendes) appears after Luke’s opening show and it is soon revealed these two had a fling the last time the circus came to town. This has resulted in a child, which Luke now wants to try and support. His decisions lead him down a path of self-destruction where he makes mistakes that get worse and worse – eventually leading to bank robbery followed by careless bank robbery and a run-in with ambitious cop Avery (Bradley Cooper).

After their encounter, the film takes a right turn and we now follow Avery and his family life and complicated work situation with crooked colleagues. Cooper is given the difficult task of keeping the audience engaged at this point – and he does a fine job. Great actors in small supporting roles also ensure this section of the film remains dynamic. Bruce Greenwood is great in a pair of scenes that serve to change the balance of power within the law enforcement bureaucracy. And in far too little screen time, Ray Liotta’s corrupt Detective Deluca tells us everything we need to know about him with a few phony laughs and slimy reassurances. His exchange with Mendes when preparing to search her home is filthy and fantastic.

This episode in the life of Avery comes to a close and we get a title card; I’m thinking it’s a quick epilogue…but no, we bounce forward in time to see the trickle-down effect to the next generation. And it keeps going…and going, eventually sputtering to a certain, somber conclusion. Though it isn’t meant as a conclusion, just a sign of the cycle these characters are stuck in.

I like a lot of what writer/director Derek Cianfrance attempts to do; the stories are gripping and performances are there, it’s just a little something that’s missing. When I see a story that involves fathers and sons and moral ambiguity I want it to almost wreck me some way. The final image of The Place Beyond the Pines doesn’t scar, it only slightly registers as an expected outcome. I felt as though I was being preached to in a showy way, but just couldn’t put together what the sermon was trying to tell me beyond the obvious.

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