The first hour or so of The Place Beyond the Pines is one of the best of recent times. Taut and compelling with a stunning mix of thrills and emotion which plays as a sort of Drive without the flashy neon lights, setting it up to be one of the best films of the year. Unfortunately it can’t maintain that momentum as it ends up trying to be too many things at once.
The plot centres on Luke (Ryan Gosling), a motorcycle stunt rider who to his surprise one day finds out he has a baby son to a woman he thought he’d never see again (played by Eva Mendes). As a way to provide for them he starts to rob banks with the help of newfound friend Robin (Ben Mendelsohn), which leads him onto a collision course with rookie cop Avery Cross (Bradley Cooper).
Writer/director Derek Cianfrance made his name with the achingly truthful and affecting Blue Valentine, the ultimate anti-rom-com which also starred Gosling. And while Cianfrance has delivered an ambitious, far-reaching tale of crime, love and redemption here he suffers from that difficult follow-up syndrome.
It’s a film of segments, the first of which is clearly the strongest and tends to overshadow the rest of the film not only being more gripping but feeling like it’s part of an entirely different movie altogether. Cooper elevates the middle chunk of the film from its otherwise clichéd nature with a complex and emotional portrayal of a conflicted rookie cop.
But it’s in the final section where the film really lets the side down; not to give too much away but at a certain point we jump ahead to see how the events so far have affected the characters in the years to come and while it’s emotionally well-handled and acted by its stellar cast it feels unsatisfying, relying on coincidences and heavy-handed foreshadowing of how it’s all going to tie together in the end. It’s a bold, uncompromising approach to switch channels like it does but misfires when it should hit the target.
There’s a lot to like about The Place Beyond the Pines from its cast jam packed with very talented actors (Gosling as good as ever, Cooper continuing to prove his worth and so forth) to its bold attempts at melding together several different stories and throwing heavy themes of paternal responsibility and redemption into the mix that really resonate throughout. It’s so close to being a really good film but with a runtime that’s well on its way to being two and a half hours long it’s unnecessarily lengthy, piling too many events on top of another resulting in a film thats reach exceeds its grasp.