This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.
Ryan Kirby’s review published on Letterboxd:
This review may contain spoilers.
I really don't know how to review this movie without openly talking about spoilers, so I'm just going to. Read at your own risk
I was really into Place Beyond the Pines for about a third of the way through it, when it shifted from a fascinating character study about a lost soul addicted to the next adrenaline thrill he could find, to a kind of meandering drama about the aftermath of what happened in the first third. The opening act of the movie establishes a good sense of dread with it's Psycho-esque chords in the soundtrack, and does a good job of introducing you into the lives of the characters that you assume are going to carry the film. Gosling's character is like what Vin Diesel's character in the Fast and Furious movies would be if he was transplanted into real life. The thrill-seeking tendencies come off as less cool and more psychotic and obsessive, and you don't always get away with robbery through your advanced driving skills.
Which leads directly into this movie's big twist, Gosling is killed off a third of the way through the film, and the movie transitions over the Bradley Cooper's character, the cop who killed Gosling. This makes the film about something else entirely, namely, the long-lasting consequences of a few bad choices in one person's life, but the sad truth is that Cooper's character is just far less interesting than Gosling's.
Gosling had an interesting moral play going on, in that he seemed genuinely ashamed of his thrill-seeking tendencies, and deep down only wanted to care for his son. On the flip-side of this, the film goes out of it's way to establish Cooper as nothing but a good guy, there is no complexity to his character, he is the standard "good cop in a sea of corruption" archetype, thus painting him as the primary portrait of goodness in the film, which is a step back from the more complex nature of the characters from the first act. This plot could have worked on it's own, but coming down from the seat-gripping climax of the first act of the film, the second act just seems boring by comparison.
Finally the movie enters the third act, where the teenage sons of Cooper and Gosling are introduced. This act is better than the second, but in my opinion still fails to reach the heights of the first. It does a nice job of bringing the plot full circle. Of course by this point the emotions you are supposed to feel have been clearly defined by the director, in the final showdown between Cooper and Gosling's Son, we know that Cooper doesn't deserve to die, he has been painted as a good and honest cop. At the same time we sympathize with the son character's anger and confusion at Cooper over the death of his father that he never met, but it's still clear that if he was to shoot Cooper, it would be the bad ending, and if he doesn't shoot him, it would be the happy ending. This is not how you do an effective drama in my opinion, the characters and situations are too defined and clear and give no room to audience interpretation, you are given the director's opinion of these characters and don't really feel free to make your own judgments about them.
So in the end what started as an extremely promising first act ultimately lost me by the end, but when the credits rolled, I still found that I enjoyed the journey. It's essentially three completely different films with threads tying them all together, and in that respect it works, I just wish the latter two parts had been on the same level as the first.