Movie Review - The Place Beyond the Pines

Could it be that this over-long, cops-and-robbers, familial drama in addition to being about fathers and sons is also and perhaps mainly about director Derek Cianfrance's secret or maybe open love of motorcycles? The opening to his second feature film is a 4-minute, long, continuous take that follows Oscar-nominee Ryan Gosling as he roams a carnival or state fair ending in him hopping on a motorcycle and performing an amazing stunt inside a spherical cage. Throughout the course of this movie, there are other key and symbolic scenes involving that motorcycle, which clearly Cianfrance sees as more than just a prop.

Cianfrance even stages a motorcycle chase between Ryan Gosling who plays Luke Glanton, a man who's slightly more verbal than his character in Drive (2011), and Ben Mendelsohn who plays Robin, a lowly mechanic who is not that far flung from his character in Killing Them Softly (2012) only way greasier. The chase between Luke and Robin occurs in a forest, and it is very reminiscent of the forest chase in Star Wars: Episode VI - Return of the Jedi (1983). I know that it's a scene that Cianfrance was mimicking or had in mind because later he has Mahershala Ali (The 4400 and House of Cards) who plays Kofi quote a line that's quite famous from the Star Wars movies.

Unfortunately, instead of staying with Luke and what would become his family, including his love interest Romina, a waitress and adult student, played by Eva Mendes (Hitch and The Bad Lieutenant - Port of Call: New Orleans), as well as her son, Jason, eventually played by Dane DeHaan (Chronicle and Lawless), and her boyfriend Kofi, Cianfrance veers off and dedicates a hour and a half on a police officer named Avery Cross, played by Oscar nominee Bradley Cooper (Silver Linings Playbook and The Hangover). The movie declines significantly when that focus shifts and it ultimately never recovers.

What sinks the momentum that the first 40 minutes builds is the obvious and overhanded play of police corruption. Avery Cross is so quickly pulled into a police corruption scandal. In actual time, it's probably not as quick, but in movie time, it's almost instantaneous. Even though Cianfrance utilizes slow dissolves to signify the passage of time, still it all feels too rushed. It probably wouldn't have felt that way if Ray Liotta, who like Mendelsohn most likely came straight from Killing Them Softly to this, didn't play so on-the-nose and so conspicuously.

All of it is like filler to delay getting to the last third of the movie. The last third really has the potential of really dealing with those father-and-son, legacy issues, explored in Star Wars, but in a more naturalistic way. Unlike with Gosling's character or Cooper's character, there is no way to understand the people that Cianfrance puts in the forefront here.

Through Gosling's performance and his great acting, the audience understands where his character Luke is, where he's been and why he's doing what he's doing. Through Cianfrance's writing and directing as well as the co-writing of Ben Coccio and Darius Marder, the audience can understand where Cooper's character Avery is, where he's been and why he's doing what he's doing up to a point. Yet, the writing and directing start to collapse once Cianfrance gets into Avery's story.

Cooper's performance doesn't help. For example, there is a scene that Cooper has in a hospital room with Bruce Greenwood that is almost beat-for-beat the same as a scene in a hospital room in Flight (2012) between Bruce Greenwood and Denzel Washington. Greenwood's role is unchanged but it's clear through watching Cooper whose character is in a similar position as Washington's that he can't carry or convey the kind of emotions that Washington can.

The last third of the movie is about Avery's son AJ, played by Emory Cohen (Afterschool and New York, I Love You), and Luke's son Jason. AJ and Jason meet in high school and form a tenuous relationship that leads to disaster. Cohen and DeHaan, despite being half Cooper's age, are both far better actors than him. Yet, unlike with Luke's story, the audience never understands the ultimate motives or what's truly going on in any of their heads.

The last third of the movie proceeds with a title card that reads "15 Years Later." Sadly, with some movies and some actors, that kind of jump can be overcome and most, if not all of that time period that's not shown can be assumed, but not the case here. I have no clue what or how AJ and Jason were raised or have become what they've become in that 15 year leap. It makes no sense how they are the way they are.

DeHaan seems to be playing his same character from Chronicle. Yet, I don't know why. His Jason seems like a lonely and mostly isolated kid, and again, I don't know why. Cohen's AJ seems to be specifically targeting Jason and I don't see what his motive would be. There is a moment where he's with his father at a political rally and Cianfrance focuses on Cohen's face and in that moment I had no earthly idea what was going through his head, whereas Cianfrance assumes that I do.

Watching Gosling's performance in the quiet moments, as well as during the loud moments when he's robbing banks, is great. Cianfrance directs an amazing final motorcycle chase that's almost like out of the TV series COPS, but way more thrilling and visceral. It also moves this movie toward powerful cinema but two-thirds of it is a drag. One nitpick that really bothered me was a picture that Avery had in his wallet at the end of the film. I simply did not buy that at all. It was too contrived.

Two Stars out of Five.
Rated R for language, some violence, teen drug and alcohol use, and sexual reference.
Running Time: 2 hrs. and 20 mins.


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