Reviewed by Ian Forbes
Much like with director/co-writer Derek Cianfrance’s last and much-lauded effort, Blue Valentine, my own estimation of the end result for his latest, The Place Beyond the Pines, is a mixed bag.
He’s once again teamed up with Ryan Gosling but as the story is broken into an epic three-piece structure told over the course of 15 years, there’s also Bradley Cooper and Dane DeHaan who feature center stage. Like Blue Valentine, the theme of marital dysfunction features prominently but it’s a one-sided examination with very little focus on the women of the film; instead it’s the father-son relationship that Cianfrance explores over the course of 2 hours and 20 minutes that begin to weigh heavily halfway through the second act.
Gosling puts in an excellent performance but it’s one we’ve seen from him before (a few times before at this point); blending his characters from Blue Valentine and Drive with a mid-to-late ’90s fashion sense. As he goes from stunt motorcycle rider at a carnival to a bank robber in an attempt to provide for a one-time fling (Eva Mendes) which produced a son he immediately wants to take care of, there are whole series of gaps in emotional and psychological progression that gets skipped over in favor of hitting the tensest moments (par for the course in this film). Pairing him with Ben Mendelsohn for the bank robberies is the highlight of the entire proceedings; it’s a shame this wasn’t the entire focus and that Cianfrance seemed so hell-bent on telling his epic.
Bradley Cooper suffers from being placed in the role of a lawyer-trained cop battling corruption and career aspirations in such a stock fashion that it feels like when the movie shifts to him, the movie changed channels to cable television. He’s surrounded by some good (though similarly stock) performances by Ray Liotta, Rose Byrne and Bruce Greenwood but this entire section is pure setup for the final chapter and carries some tension but little weight.
DeHaan and Emory Cohen anchor the last section and it’s here that Cianfrance wants to pull everything together and prove the unnecessary length of the proceedings was worth the ride but the realizations and understandings that come through in the end were realized by the audience so much earlier that it makes everything anticlimactic. Cohen’s bravado and aptly in-film described Jersey Shore sensibilities make the interplay pop between him and the mousy, socially awkward DeHaan. Much like the first section, this could have been a movie unto itself but suffers from getting short shrift and ends up a collection of tense moments all jumbled together in fast-forward progression.
If you’ve put the theme of the movie together at this point, you’ve probably also figured out the theme of this review. The Place Beyond the Pines is a huge, multi-character arc that either needed to be told in three distinct films or one segment could have been expanded into feature length and left at that. The middle section is an appropriate name as that’s the place where the film could have lost a lot of weight and gets lost in a traditional crime drama whereas the beginning and end are character studies more expected from the director. It’s as if Cianfrance and his co-writers wrote a huge novel, full of rich detail and character development – then they boiled it all down to the flashier moments. This turned what could have been a fascinating mini-series on HBO or Showtime into a bloated and self-indulgent movie aimed at people who think the length of film equates to its quality.
While I commend certain moments here and there, and the supporting characters were cast wonderfully, the sheer volume of runtime made me take time to chew on what I had watched but after some reflection I realized I was over-complicating a rather simple-premise; which is what the film does throughout. There’s also the use of Mike Patton’s score to overly punctuate the mood of scenes, and how conveniently the character relations become intertwined in the last section, that distract from the big picture but going off on those aspects would make this review as overly long as the movie.
The payoff isn’t worth the journey in this case and for those out there who were looking solely at the attractiveness of the cast in order to determine if you were headed to the theater, a few words of caution: Yes, you see Gosling’s finely sculpted abs but only once in the first few moments of the film. Yes, Eva Mendes shuns a bra in her first appearance but by the time you get to her hilariously bad make-up job to age her 15 years, you’ll forget all about that. Yes, Bradley Cooper has dreamy blue eyes, but they’re not highlighted in this film, you’re better off with something like Limitless if that’s your thing. Everyone hoping for another Blue Valentine are probably better off just rewatching it and hoping Cianfrance puts more stock in having someone help edit the screenplay prior to shooting; with so much story to tell, there wasn’t much the editors could do here without gutting the project entirely.
The Place Beyond the Pines is rated R for language throughout, some violence, teen drug and alcohol use, and a sexual reference.
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