Ryan Gosling, Bradley Cooper, Eva Mendes, Ray Liotta, Ben Mendelsohn, Rose Byrne, Mahershala, Bruce Greenwood, Harris Yulin, Dane DeHaan, Emory Cohen, Robert Clohessy and Olga Merediz
Derek Cianfrance followed up his wonderfully heartbreaking 2010 drama "Blue Valentine" with a film about fathers and their sons. The notion of masculinity and responsibilities set to the bleak reality of 'American dream' has been done many times. Here it is stretched to its limit with the intention of turning this plot into a Greek tragedy. Broken up in three parts, "The Place Beyond the Pines" follows a motorcycle stuntman Luke Glanton (Gosling), Officer Avery Cross (Cooper) and then both their sons. Luke is locally famous for the daring acts that he performs in state fairs, a rough and tattooed man. While visiting his ex, Romina (Mendes), Luke finds out that he is the father of her son. He sees no other way but to quit his job and try to be there in his son's life. But Romina doesn't want that as she is in a relationship with another man, Kofi. In order to provide for his child and seeing no other way or opportunity, Luke turns to the alternative path. He meets an auto repair shop owner Robin (Mendelsohn) and gets a job there. Luke is good at what he does but it's not enough to provide for his child, he also has the pressure to prove his worth to Romina. Robin was a bank robber once and he offers Luke to team up with him so that they can rob some of the banks. Their heist are successful and Luke continues to push his way into his son's life which Kofi cannot stand. Luke is jailed after he gets in a fight leaving Kofi badly wounded. After getting out thanks to Robin, Luke is more desperate than ever, pushing his luck with committing robberies he is pursued by the police and is shot dead. The film then focuses on Cross being hailed a hero, his corrupt police department and the guilt he feels at killing somebody with a kid. The Place Beyond the Pines is a film that gives it all to sustain its dramatic heft and narrative cleverness by constantly honing on its characters at their emotionally lowest. The result is that the film falls a bit all over the place without completely falling flat or overbearingly melodramatic.
It is a tragedy that this film doesn't work quite as greatly as Cianfrance aspired to. Nowhere near to the greatness of his previous film. Perhaps the focus here is on too many characters and their not so well-developed tragedies. With the kind of structure that Blue Valentine had, it was able to paint a complete and utterly moving portrait of two people as well as their love, relationship and breakup. Whereas in this film, the propulsive power of the plot is somehow never truly felt. The over-eagerness to have a tragedy shadowing the lives of generations and families at the opposite ends, which without a doubt sounds like a fascinating premise, somehow never hits the right mark. The over-ambitiousness of this project seems to have gotten in the way. Don't get me wrong, every film and its filmmaker has the right to dream and aspire bigger and try to deliver something amazing. I always highlight that aspect no matter the end results but in this film, that ends up making for a bumpy ride. The Place beyond the Pines does feature some good performances. Ryan Gosling as the highlight The Place Beyond the Pines, having the most well-developed and stronger character of the film to play. His performance is packed with the energy as well as controlled emotions. It is a good performance because Gosling is a good actor and when he has something that compliments his particular traits, physical or internal, he outshines even without doing much in the obvious sense. His opening sequence in the film establishes his character as the daring, all-out person who has the ability to jump the hurdles which life will throw at him. On his own, he seems like a complete person, somebody who can live a bigger life without needing much in the way. But that is a deceptive appearance because underneath all that, he cares for the people he loves and despite the choices he makes, he isn't a bad person. He wants to take the responsibility of his child and be there for him. Of course, he ends up taking a bad route in his life for money and as luck would have it, puts an end to his life.
On the other hand, we have Bradley Cooper who has surfaced in the last two or three years as a good actor working under good filmmakers. In this film, he gives his best performance yet. Even better than his work in the two David O. Russell's films. Contrary to the corrupt turn Glanton takes in his life for the greater good, Cross later uses other's wrongdoings to sustain a bigger position at work. Both men were helpless in the context that they had no other choice while they had to make one. It was obviously different with Granton but in his own way Cross too finds a way to grab on to the opportunity of a better life. Cooper gives such a sensitive performance that despite the weaker approach taken for his character's portrayal, still stands out on its own. You can feel Cross' dilemma of an officer shooting a robber but ending up killing a father. A father with a kid just like him. Cross has a family too and he destroyed another, doesn't matter why. He further feels bad when his fellow officers unlawfully seizes the robbed money from Romina. There is nothing he can do, nobody will listen to him. Cooper is able to hold our attention to his character, something that the writers fails to do. Then in the third act, you have the high school going kids who ends up caught in their father's sins. Delivering a below average performance is Harris Yulin and a decent one by Dane DeHaan. By that time, the film has lost its touch and the urgency. Trying hard to hold on to the very little of what has left. I don't think that even the most greatest and established actors would have saved the final act so I can't blame both the actors. Or one because DeHaan at least tries. Both the characters are stone faced photocopy of their fathers but with a constraint and obvious narrative to follow their father's past. The dramatic energy of the story and tonal balance of the juggling ideas is no more. A great start to a fine if slightly overdrawn middle portion and a disappointing almost ridiculing mesh of the obvious and the forced. You watch this film slowly crumble under its own weight and aspirations. What about the female actors in the film? Well don't even ask I mean why are mothers important in their children's life? Boys take after their fathers, they do what their father do, to hell with others. Sigh!
The Place beyond the Pines features a beautiful score as well as good cinematography. The motorcycle scenes, the long roads, camera following the characters. The writing in this film as I mentioned goes from great to bad as the film goes along. The flow of the plot at time feels clogged up while not to a complete stall. Some of the characters are well-drawn while others are not cared for. The emotional honesty and desperation is ideally realized but not finely executed. The Place Beyond the Pines is an odyssey of characters sharing the basic conflicts albeit on a broader level. Life may go on but the ripples of the past are felt. Past catches up to a person and one has to then make a choice. Do you go along with it or somehow find something morally enlightening within? Morals are there to be compromised, lines are crossed and all is done to make sure a family gets to have everything that it needs. But in protecting your family sometimes, the choices that are made are the wrong ones and they continue to haunt. In building up something for yourself, you end up losing it all. I hope Derek Cianfrance comes back with a film that knocks us down. The Place Beyond the Pines with all its ambitions disappointed. A rage-filled tale of romanticized manhood and fatherhood with not much rage at the end of the day.