By Laurie Coker
For cast appeal alone, The Place Beyond the Pines will draw big and rightly so. Ryan Gosling and Bradley Cooper highlight the cast and for their efforts all is well with The Place Beyond the Pines. It is, however, director Derek Gianfrance and co-writers Ben Coccio and Darius Marder’s script that falters. It feels like two (if not more) films tied together by a thin string with which filmmakers then try to awkwardly tie together in a connecting bow, resulting in a lumbering, disjointed story, and its theme of sin and forgiveness often gets lost as a result. In spite of its flaws, if for no other reason than the cast, I appreciated the opportunity to see the film even if I waver in my opinion of it.
In fairness, the string I speak of above is thicker than I imply. Four unique protagonists’ lives are explored and yes, there is a connection. On one side, two are wealthy; one begins as a rookie cop (Cooper) who later vies for a place in congress, and is his son (an infant when the film opens) and the other a carnival sideshow motorcyclist (Gosling) and bank robber and his son (also a baby when the film opens). After Luke (the carnival entertainer) discovers he has a son, he takes to robbing banks, bringing him in direct contact with Avery (Cooper), a young policeman, setting into play a series of events that finally bring their two sons together a decade and a half later, forcing a father to face his sins and look for forgiveness.
Like in Gianfrance’s Blue Valentine, The Place Beyond the Pines doesn’t explore the lighter side of life and overtly decent people, but rather, focuses on the more unsavory or abysmal aspects of life and of human behavior. Because of finely fashioned characters, so many aspects engage moment to moment and scene to scene, perhaps a bit like a train wreck, I couldn’t turn away. They mesmerized me, in part because of the stars and I stayed wholly engaged, but the writers’ apparently monumental ideas flounder awkwardly and never actually solidify satisfactorily.
I realize I’ve sent mixed messages with this review. I had mixed feelings as the final credits rolled. On one hand, I actually loved the film, but I know the story could have been far more tightly woven and that alone is enough to warrant a lower grade. Gosling’s character, Luke, is afforded a huge portion of the film, and then poof, we are thrust into Avery’s life and follow his aspirations, and later we’re tossed forward 15 years and we meet Luke and Avery’s sons, now teenagers. Dane Dehaan plays Luke’s grown son and what a talent he is. Brooding, morose and substantially broken, Jason warrants our empathy all because of Dehaan’s portrayal. Emory Cohen, as AJ, a rebellious, angry rich boy, on the other hand, plays an almost cartoonish character and his depiction distracted more than anything else. He and he alone fails to impress. Cooper and Gosling (even with bleached-blond hair and covered in tattoos) are perfection.
I find it horribly difficult to write this review, for the R-rated The Place Beyond the Pines, because there is good in the film, but the story is simply too much and is too lacking in continuity and connection to be much more than a vehicle to see talented actors act. Gianfrance and his co-writers’ created intriguing characters and cast exceptional actors (in almost all cases), but ultimately, the film leaves us feeling dirty and demoralized. I am placing a B- in my book.