A Place Beyond the Pines is about Ryan Gosling and Bradley Cooper having an ab-off. Subsequently, all the estrogen on the planet implodes. Ladies, I’m available by the way. Just saying. I kid, but the film definitely fetishizes at least Gosling in a way females will like. I’m told. Not making any generalizations here.
Honestly, they could just call it Bluer Valentine: Drive Faster. Gosling plays Luke, a motorcycle rider who quits his carnival stunt job when he finds out he has a child with a local (Eva Mendes). He tries to stay in their lives and provide for them by robbing banks. See, in one movie he’s a stuntman who drives getaway. In this movie he robs banks with a motorcycle, so it’s totally different!
I know I’m being especially bitchy, and you’ll see in a bit how superficial those similarities are, but they don’t end at the above. Luke is introduced in a tracking shot locked on his back in a red jacket, fetishizing his gear again. Instead of beating a guy with a hammer, he beats a guy with a wrench. Seriously.
At two hours and 20 minutes, the film goes way further than Luke’s troubles acclimating to domestic fatherhood. It ends up very far away from where it began, but it would be unfair to discuss plot details in depth at this early stage. They’ve only just shown The Place Beyond the Pines for the first time. I think it’s safe to reveal Cooper plays a cop.
The reason I’m iffy on the film is not anything to do with similarities to Drive or other broody romances. It’s just that Pines seems primarily motivated to see just how much it can depress you. It’s well made, the actors are sincere, and the movie itself is sincere but it just believes its own drama a little too much.
Since I can’t ruin the film with specific examples, all I can do is offer personal references for myself. I do like serious drama. Some films that I feel have explored grief and tragedy in really healthy ways include Blue Valentine (also directed by Derek Cianfrance), Monster’s Ball and Seven Pounds. Movies I think revel in moping for Oscar bait include 21 Grams, The Hours and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.
Place Beyond the Pines is in between. I was interested in where this sprawling story was going, but only just so. It’s not as bad as the blatant Oscar baiters, but it’s treading too closely to be really moving. Perhaps a poignant point is how one character continues to make bad decisions and another tries to make good ones, and both are difficult.
Oh, there is one sequence of a police chase shot in a series of extended single takes that’s really impressive. Bravo to Cianfrance for that one. So overall a problematic film with moments of interest and skill, if not brilliance.