The Place Beyond the Pines

The Place Beyond the Pines ★★★½

A funny thing happened midway through The Place Beyond the Pines, it became another film; a film which in turn begot another film, both holding visual similarities to the original yet not as fully realized. Without spoiling too much, these three stories are connected by characters and setting but its scope is epic enough to encompass different generations and shift focus between economic backgrounds. The one narrative thread that unites all three of them is the theme of fatherhood.

Ryan Gosling, who is every bit as minimalistic in this as he was in Drive, plays a tattooed, motorbike-riding , thrill seeking drifter who arrives when the circus arrives and leaves when they leave. The discovery of a son makes him reconsider his nomadic lifestyle, but when it comes time to provide for his child he finds that money is not as easy to come by as he’d hoped.

I found myself comparing this film to Andrew Dominik’s Killing Them Softly. Like that film, it sets its ambitious aim at the underside of the American dream; that anything is attainable as long as you’re willing to get your hands dirty. It should come as no surprise then that Ben Mendelsohn, who played a desperate lowlife in need of some quick dough in Killing Them Softly, plays a desperate low life (though admittedly more likable) in need of some quick dough. Ray Liotta also reprises his role as an untrustworthy sleaze ball. And then there’s Bradley Cooper whose idea of displaying inner conflict consists of not blinking. I know his character is meant to be unlikable but if a film wants to keep my interest, I have to care about what will happen to the character and yet in Bradley Cooper’s segment I found my interest waning with every drawn out second. A third segment introduces a character played by the promising young actor Dane Deehan of Chronicle fame. He certainly has stage presence; reminds me of a young Leonardo Dicaprio, but his segment borders on the fantastical. The film as a whole, treads a fine line between personal tragedy and melodrama. It doesn't help that the score is often religious music; this creates a good sense of tension in many scenes but more often than not it draws too much attention to itself.

Overall this is a commendable effort from a director who wants to make movies that matter. There are scenes in this film, such as Gosling riding his motorbike into the woods, that will haunt you. But on the whole I was a bit underwhelmed. I believe this director is capable of a flat out masterpiece, but unfortunately this isn't it.

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