The Place Beyond the Pines (Derek Cianfrance – USA) 140 minutes
Derek Cianfrance’s third feature promises much but ultimately comes unstuck, in spite of its undeniable qualities. The film focusses on a fairground daredevil motorcyclist played by Ryan Gosling, and a rookie cop (Bradley Cooper) with whom he has a brief, fateful encounter that changes the lives of all in the film. It is hard to talk about The Place Beyond the Pines too much without giving away spoilers but I’ll try my best.
Gosling plays Luke Glanton, who learns, when visiting Schenectady, New York that an old flame of his, Romina (Eva Mendes), has had a son by him. She refuses to leave her current partner but continues to see him surreptitiously nonetheless. Luke’s plan for winning back Romina and Jason is to put himself in a financially comfortable position, something that is highly improbable, to say the least. He meets Robin, a mechanic and small-time criminal, who suggests they rob banks together, using Luke’s motorcycle prowess as a getaway.
The film is divided into three sections, or movements, the third of which takes place fifteen years later, and which involves the sons of Luke and Avery Cross, the cop whose story takes up most of the second part. This third section is where the film’s credibility begins to flag, with far too many plot irregularities and coincidences swept under the carpet. Stretching the film across generations is also overreaching – while it may seem to have Shakepearean potential for some, it can also very easily go Jeffrey Archer. Cianfrance’s film is not quite the latter but it is certainly not the former either.
There is a problem with the way Cianfrance, a talented director, furnishes his story. The story arcs are a little unconvincing and he tries to invest the film with an unnecessarily mythic air, with the ethereal chants of Mike Patton’s score (yes, he of Faith No More); it is as if he has prepared the film in advance for greatness, much as parents go to great efforts to get a children’s room ready before the birth of a child. Unfortunately, the story is just not really up to this heady challenge – it’s mundane, dull and strives above itself at times. The teenagers in the third section are far too old, especially Emory Cohen as AJ Cross, whose Brando-esque performance is severely misjudged. The script also jars in parts – do petty criminals really use management jargon like ‘skillset’? The title, which comes from the Mohawk meaning for Schenectady, is an admirable enough one in its own right yet it sits strangely with the film as a whole.
While Cianfrance’s writing might leave something to be desired, he is a fine director, with many of the sequence’s stunningly filmed, such as the fairground scenes early on and the motorcycle chase after a botched robbery. Cooper, Gosling and Mendes are all excellent and it is a pleasure to see Ray Liotta in yet another small-time tough-guy role. Liotta’s career seems to be back on track in a minor key – sometimes I think the witness protection program Henry Hill was assigned was Ray Liotta’s career. You can’t fault Derek Cianfrance’s ambition or sincerity and he is talented enough a director to turn out something great at some point. For the moment, The Place Beyond the Pines, admirable as it is in many ways, is not it.