A film of two halves
Derek Cianfrance’s follow up to his emotionally gripping Blue Valentine had fans immediately excited after it was revealed that the American filmmaker would be reuniting with Ryan Gosling. Much like the Golden Globe-nominated performance he previously provided in Cianfrance’s anti-romantic Sundance-hit, the Hollywood heartthrob is the driving force behind this ambitious project. Sadly, he’s also the only memorable part of it.
Gosling stars as Luke, a motorcycle stunt performer who seeks to reconnect with a former lover only to learn that she’s, in his absence, given birth to his son. In order to provide for his newfound family, Luke forsakes his life on the road and partners up with a shady acquaintance to conduct a series of spectacular bank robberies. Having gained notoriety, it isn’t long before Luke runs up against the law in the form of an optimistic rookie cop Avery Cross, confidently played by Bradley Cooper, but neither know the significance of their chance meeting or how one single act of violence would set off a chain of events the results of which wouldn’t be felt until years later.
Cianfrance directs from his own original screenplay, which he co-wrote with Ben Coccio and Darius Marder, creating a complex tale that conveys multiple stories in three key chapters and connects them to one unexpected event. With The Place Beyond The Pines, Cianfrance has sought to create an epic drama that spans two generations, but sees the end result suffocating under the weight of its own ambition. For all of its storytelling innovation, and despite the vastness of the script, there isn’t enough character development or depth to warrant such an overbearing runtime.
The film begins in magnificent fashion with Luke’s adventures as a motorbike riding bank robber and these exhilarating sequences are comfortably the strongest elements of the entire film, not least for granting Gosling a license to provide flashes of the brooding aggressor he’d previously presented in Drive. The opening chapter is richly detailed, deeply involving and relentlessly entertaining; its intense heists and breathtaking chases a stark contrast to the slow burning stories of police corruption and teenage drama that follow it. All momentum gained from the lightning start is soon lost among an overreliance on superfluous clichés and unlikely coincidences that never come close to suspending disbelief. The result is an incoherent film that instead of feeling like several strands of a single narrative expertly hinged on a truly memorable scene, feels instead like two loosely tied together.
The Place Beyond The Pines is much like its main character, a vagrant in constant motion, with plenty of energy and enthusiasm, but never knowing when to stop. The film veers sharply from one place to another, shifting from genre to genre, but never slowing down to give sufficient focus to its copious themes. For his eagerly anticipated follow up, Cianfrance takes on too much and despite its plentiful length there isn’t enough time to fully develop any of his ambitious ideas.