First things first, The Place beyond the Pines is a long film. It’s around 2 and a half hours but it packs a lot into its running time. This is a sprawling tale about fate, coincidence, and fathers and sons. It attempts to convey some big ideas but ultimately fails to deliver on it’s potential.
In an extremely specific case of type-casting Ryan Gosling plays another stunt driver but this time on a motorcycle. His character Luke finds out he has a one year old son from a fling with Romina (Eva Mendes). Not having any money and not being very smart (this is a man who has the word ‘hand’ tattooed on his er, hand) Luke hits on the bright idea of becoming a bank robber so he can provide for his child. This new career choice will put him on a collision course with a rookie cop played by Bradley Cooper and the result changes the lives of absolutely everyone (even me, I dropped some nacho cheese sauce on my jeans at this point).
Pines (i’m not typing the full title every time) is of a genre I’m calling ‘Guy does something risky and then everything goes to shit’. OK its not very clever but we’ve all seen these types of movies where you know things will not end well. Pines reminded me of the films of Alejandro González Iñárritu particularly Amores Perros and 21 grams where one incident affects lots of lives. However this is where this movie differs from these. There’s no real impact, no punch to the gut that these give the viewer. You feel you’re being carried along by the director just so he can get in some broader points about how good intentions can be corrupted.
The best thing about Pines is the acting. Here you have a group of actors at the top of their game making the most of a clunky script. Bradley Cooper is excellent, Gosling more or less plays his character from Drive, Ray Liotta is menacing, and Eva Mendes brings a reality to her role. Also the sound design and music are brilliant and it’s beautifully shot. There are lots of closeups of faces especially Gosling no matter what he’s doing at the time. Gosling opens a door – closeup of his face, Gosling holds a baby – closeup of his face, Italy win the 1982 World Cup – closeup of Gosling’s face.
There’s a very distinct three part structure focussing on a different character over a period of 15 years. The problem here is that the first two parts really suck you in and hold your attention which left me feeling like I’d prefer a film that was just about the Gosling and Cooper characters. Pines has a clear point to make about fathers and sons but by the end my response to that would be ‘so?’. There’s nothing particularly revealing about the human condition and the movie skims over and sometimes even misses more interesting avenues.
If you’re going in expecting to be enlightened you might be disappointed but you’ll see some superb performances and a very well shot film with an interesting story. The Place beyond the Pines is a piece that just can’t keep up with its own ambitions but will be enjoyable for some.