‘The Place Beyond the Pines’ falls short of the mark
“Blue Valentine” director Derek Cianfrance returns, with his lead actor from Valentine Ryan Gosling in tow, to brings us his vision of an epic crime saga that spans a generation with the much hyped film that debuted at last year’s Toronto International Film Festival, The Place Beyond the Pines. Also bringing along Bradley Cooper and rising star Dane DeHaan this time around, director Cianfrance is attempting a much larger in scope and scale story with Place Beyond the Pines, but will the film have more intention and purpose behind the script, or be more about observation and character like Blue Valentine?
The Place Beyond the Pines
Written by Derek Cianfrance, Ben Coccio and Darius Marder
Directed by Derek Cianfrance
The Place Beyond the Pines is a sweeping emotional drama exploring the unbreakable bond between fathers and sons. Luke Glanton (Gosling) is a risk taking motorcycle stunt performer who travels from town to town with the carnival. Passing through Schenectady in upstate New York, he tries to reconnect with a former lover, Romina (Mendes), only to learn that she has in his absence given birth to their son Jason. Luke resolves to forsake life on the road and to provide for his new found family, taking a job as car mechanic with Robin (Mendelsohn). Robin soon discovers Luke’s special talents, and proposes to partner with him in a string of spectacular bank robberies. But it is only a matter of time before Luke will run up against the law, which comes in the form of Avery Cross (Bradley Cooper).
The film script takes off from there, resolving Luke’s story before shifting focus to Avery and then eventually the both men’s sons as teenagers. The film’s stages of the script become less effective and watchable as they go along, with the first act being the strongest, the second act dealing with police corruption and ambition is unoriginal and carries none of the consequences for actions that are threatened. But instead we get a drastic jump forward to a third act that follows the lives of each of the two men’s sons. It’s at this point the film becomes an utter mess and does not work at all. The third act is also not helped by featuring the film’s worst performance and even though the film is fictional the third act becomes convoluted and feels unrealistically staged. Director Cianfrance liberally lifts sequences from crime saga classics like “Goodfellas” and “Miller’s Crossing” and re-purposes them, ultimately lacking the impact that the sequences originally had.
Gosling is very good here, even though his brooding and mysterious Luke Glanton is an extension of roles he has previously given us in better films. Cooper is almost unrecognizable to start, in a very un-flashy and gritty performance to start that eventually becomes a glossed over version of Avery Cross that brings back the Cooper we have seen many times before. Even Mendes is strong here, elevating a character that is not given a lot on the page to a believable and sympathetic woman. The rest of the cast is vastly underutilized unfortunately as DeHaan is wasted in the role of Glanton’s son, Mendelsohn, Liotta and Greenwood are given nothing more than glamorized cameos and Byrne and Yulin are literally given nothing to do. But it’s Cohen’s performance as Cooper’s son AJ that stands out for all the wrong reasons. By far the least convincing and most annoying performance, Cohen is not very good here at all, there even moments in his portrayal of AJ where you could swear he is reading directly from cue cards.
The look and feel of Place Beyond the Pines is one the strongest points of the film as Cianfrance actually has an eye for staging and directing action. The motorcycle robbery sequences are very well paced and shot and stand as some of the highlights of the picture. Even the showdown between Bradley and Gosling has a pulse of its own and plays out very convincingly. The most convincing that Cohen gets is a brutal beat down at a party that is shot frenetically to heighten the realism and impact of sharp bolt of violence.
Ultimately Cianfrance shows that he may have the chops and ability to one day deliver a sprawling classic crime epic, but The Place Beyond the Pines is not that realization of that talent. The film becomes more preposterous the longer it carries on, and despite the strong performances in the first two thirds of the film, is completely undone by a terrible third act. Gosling, Cooper and Mendes do enough here to recommend the film, but by the thinnest of margins only.
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