The Place Beyond the Pines reunites director Derek Cianfrance with Ryan Gosling, the actor rapidly becoming a must-have for any big Hollywood blockbuster. The film’s premise is difficult to explain neatly but in its simplest form it could be described as following two intersecting father-son relationships in the town of Schenectady, New York, the film’s title being the English translation of the town’s Mohawk name.
My biggest concern about this film is how far-fetched it is. A father turning to crime to support his child is a fair enough base to build a movie upon but the actual depiction of these crimes borders on farcical. Cianfrance asks us to believe that no witnesses would come forward if a motorbike being pursued by police pulled into the back of a truck scarcely off the road and that Gosling’s Luke can spend his days riding around on the same bike which he is using to rob banks without being apprehended. Luke even goes as far as having a stranger take a photo of his family alongside the bike.
The film’s plot is neither as tight nor as clever as it seems to think it is. In fact, there are significant pacing problems evident throughout. The second half of the film is erratic, suffering from a lack of direction and reliant on coincidences. Slow, meandering episodes are punctuated with short blasts of drama which are resolved far too quickly. The jump of fifteen years which takes place roughly halfway through the film is clumsily accomplished. Some actors scarcely appear to have aged and 23-year old actor Emory Cohen (incidentally, wooden as a board) is noticeably too old to be playing the teenage A.J. Cross.
Another thing which I found disturbing was the film’s treatment of large social problems. I’m not at all in favour of censoring the reality of life from film but this movie throws around violence and recreational drug use as filler, adding little or nothing to the plot. It seemed to feel it could use big issues to bridge gaps between key narrative events without having to elaborate or discuss them in the least. In the same vein, the film seems to have a strong anti-police attitude – corruption is shown to be commonplace, the most moral character is himself corrupted and shown to stay corrupt, and any opportunity on the part of the police to save the life of one of the main characters is thrown away on a moment of useless macho posturing. All of this, however, is included as subplot – the film never addresses or discusses the issue of corruption, it just happens to be always going on in the background. This apparent apathy towards the huge issues that the film included combined with the often slow progression of the narrative was bizarre and irritating – more could have been done with the topics that the film covered.
If I have made it sound as if there are no positives to the film so far, it is worth noting that there is an upside. The ever-reliable Bradley Cooper works hard with the limited resources he has been given in the role of Avery Cross, eliciting sympathy in his flawed character against the odds. Gosling was equally good, holding my attention each time he was on the screen. It is difficult to forget that both have had far better outings recently in Silver Linings Playbook and Gangster Squad respectively but they portray their characters well nonetheless. Eva Mendes has several touching scenes, trying frantically to add depth to her character. Sadly, she is even more restricted by the movie’s script than her male colleagues.
Although I had issues with the film’s structure, I admit it did initially succeed in making me care about how the story would end. Unfortunately, when the ending finally arrives, it is rushed, unsatisfying and forgettable.
Although some others have found it to be uplifting, for me The Place Beyond the Pines is depressing. It asks audiences to sit through the slow destruction of the lives of its characters whilst giving back very little in return. The bottom line: it is nowhere near as important as it seems to think it is.
The Place Beyond the Pines (2013), directed by Derek Cianfrance, is distributed in the UK by StudioCanal, Certificate 15.