I absolutely loved “The Place Beyond the Pines” right up until I hated it. In fact, the first two-thirds of this movie are so awesome they make the last third of the film seem that much more awful by comparison.
Let me first accentuate the positive. The movie initially focuses on Luke (Ryan Gosling), a motorcycle stunt rider who travels from town to town with a carnival.
When he arrives in Schenectady, N.Y., he reconnects with an old flame, Romina (Eva Mendes), and discovers that he is the father of her infant son.
Wanting to be a good parent, Luke sticks around but finds he has limited prospects when it comes to providing for a family. He takes up with a local weirdo (brilliantly played by Ben Mendelsohn), who suggests Luke use his unique skillset to become a bank robber.
It’s not long before Luke runs up against Avery (Bradley Cooper), a rookie cop who has plenty of problems of his own, including his anxious wife (Rose Byrne) and a slew of corrupt police officers led by the ever-intimidating Ray Liotta.
This is all great stuff. Gosling and Cooper are at the top of their games as they both dive headfirst into these complex and layered characters.
“The Place Beyond the Pines” was written and directed by Derek Cianfrance, who not only fills his movie with impressive camera work but also ambitiously plunges into some dark and weighty themes.
Cianfrance’s action scenes crackle with authenticity thanks to a documentary-like shooting style and you really only need to see the movie’s opening sequence to understand how talented a director he is.
Echoing the beginning of Orson Welles’ “Touch of Evil,” the camera follows Gosling in one long tracking shot as he walks from his trailer across the midway to a tent where he climbs on a motorcycle and drives it into a steel sphere. It is strangely riveting.
Cianfrance is best known for directing Gosling in “Blue Valentine,” a relationship drama that is so grueling I felt like I had been through a divorce by the time it was over.
It is clear that his greatest flaw is he does not know to quit when he is ahead, which comes up again in “The Place Beyond the Pines.” The movie unnecessarily leaps ahead 15 years to show us the relationship that arises between Luke and Avery’s respective sons, Jason (Dane DeHaan) and AJ (Emory Cohen).
This is a bad idea on a multitude of fronts. First of all, it is an attempt to tack on a clunky secondary theme (something along the lines of good kids coming from the wrong side of the tracks and vice versa) to a movie that has already given you plenty to chew on.
Next, these two characters are poorly conceived and executed, especially AJ because we are given no real reason why Cooper and Byrne would produce a son that looks and acts like a reject from a “Jersey Shore” casting call.
Lastly, this pulls the movie away from interesting characters played by terrific actors and then relegates them to the sidelines. This would be as if the last 45 minutes of “The Godfather” was all about Fredo palling around in Vegas with Moe Greene.
I have a friend who once owned a bootleg VHS tape of “Scarface” that was missing the last 20 minutes. He watched it several times that way and as far as he was concerned Tony Montana walks away with an American success story.
It’s too bad this isn’t the case with “The Place Beyond the Pines.” It could just be a movie about two men wanting to do the right thing then having to live with the bad choices they’ve made to get there.
Maybe you should just get up and walk out of the theater when the words “15 Years Later” flash up on the screen. That way you’ll leave convinced that you’ve just seen the best movie of 2013.
“The Place Beyond the Pines” is rated R for language throughout, some violence, teen drug, and alcohol use, and a sexual reference.