Kriss Tolliday’s review published on Letterboxd:
The Place Beyond the Pines sees director Derek Cianfrance reteam with Blue Valentine star Ryan Gosling and this time pits him alongside Oscar nominee Bradley Cooper in a story about the importance of father/son relationships and how one event can span through generations. As well as Cooper and Gosling, Cianfrance also directs the likes of Eva Mendes, Dane DeHaan, Ray Liotta, Ben Mendelsohn and Bruce Greenwood, all actors who hold star quality within Hollywood and range from up-coming newbies to established veterans. A strong cast, a director who brought us Blue Valentine and a gritty take on family relationships only sounds like a film to be placed on a pedestal within an independent film market.
The film holds an unusual structure with it working as if in three episodic events. The first act concentrates on Ryan Gosling's character Luke Glanton, who is a motorbike stunt rider for a travelling funfair. When he learns an old flame (Eva Mendes) has mothered his child he vows to provide for that child and stay in town, however his lack of money soon sees him turn to robbing banks in order to be the best father he can. It is on one of these robberies where he comes across Bradley Cooper's rookie cop, Avery Cross, who is stuck between fighting for justice, career gain and accepting money toward his growing family within a corrupt police force. It isn't until his encounter with Glanton that he realises he needs to take action to do what is right. The final third sets the scene fifteen years later and shows the two men's sons becoming friends and ultimately having to pay the consequences for their parent's chance encounter all those years ago.
The way in which this story narrative is structured is a rather strange choice from Cianfrance in that the plot unfolds as if watching an episode of an ongoing series. Each segment, or act, involving the characters is like a complete story being told that has been condensed to fit within a shorter time frame. At times this is a genius idea. It is original, it is different and it manages to tell many different stories all under the blanket of similar themes, however on the negative side it fails to allow you the opportunity to ever really care for a singular character as each one leads their own segment and that is that. By the Bradley Cooper, middle segment, the story moves on so much that we forget Ryan Gosling's character ever really existed. This also means that previous story strands that started are left unresolved as each of these characters is never really working within the same plot. It is solely a character driven piece which means it fails to ever establish a set narrative that any of them are really trying to follow.
Whilst watching the film you can see what the writers were trying to achieve. This is a break from the norm, in that we are asked to engage with different characters all fighting for what they believe is right compared to following an overall arcing story. Again this can be seen as well executed due to the originality but at the same time struggles to leave a lasting impact as nothing is ever fully resolved. In the final act, where the children's story takes over, Luke's son Jason (DeHaan) acts so against character that an audience may fail to understand his motivations for what he ultimately plans to do. This is a major let down with it. The first act is different, we are introduced to an intriguing character in Glanton and a story of a criminal trying to do what is right, however it is when he and Cross finally meet that we shift to a typical corruption within the police force story, which begins to drag, and once the words 'fifteen years later' come across the screen the story has worn so thin that you may be looking forward to the end credits.
Cianfrance may have failed to produce a really compelling screenplay, the opening act aside, but his direction is nearly perfect. Many shots and tracks mimic each other depending on which characters and what families we are currently in the company of. High angle long shots of motorbikes (Glanton), cars (Cross) and pushbikes (Jason) really capture the tone in one long solid take that establishes the hierarchy and personality of the character by choosing the same shot, and same music, but simply adapting the props to fit in with that of the character's story we are currently with. This is also the case with many shots being the same for Gosling and DeHann considering they are father and son. The opening tracking shot is also fantastic as Glanton is tailed through the fair, to his motorbike and into the globe of death that he and his partners ride around narrowly missing one another. These shots, the tracking shots behind the character's heads, are shown throughout with different characters and highlight the attention to detail Cianfrance has gone to for his choice of shots.
As well as this, Cianfrance also draws fantastic performances from all involved. Gosling is magnetic as a character we all should hate but actually like. Cooper shows frustration as the cop torn between pride and respect. Mendes is in such form that you will forgive her for her involvement in films such as The Women. DeHaan highlights why he is currently rising through the ranks. Liotta brings his usual brilliance to the role. Mendelsohn doesn't put a foot wrong, as usual, and also relatively new to the big time, Emory Cohen, is utterly believable as Cooper's son. The only downfall is the brilliant Rose Byrne struggles for screen time as well as Bruce Greenwood. However they both still rock in the short amount of time they get to strut their stuff. In acting terms this film is nearly faultless.
In contrast to the near perfect acting and directing, the film struggles due to Cianfrance's over indulgence on the themes of father & son. The narrative drive of the film is often pushed to one side so that the themes can shine through and after a while this can become slightly tedious to watch. It causes the film's pace to become erratic as if any scene that didn't hammer the themes into your mind were instantly cut. Perfection may work for many elements of filmmaking but for the themes the story may need room to breathe and unfortunately it didn't. It is fairly easy to understand the direction of the film due to this and it causes the film to become very heavy and fairly glum throughout, with not one character having a final resolve that really feels deserved, realistic or overly happy.
The glumness of the film is lifted by the camera work and cinematography. The shots are very realistic and in the moment, whilst the camera work for the early bank robbery sequences shows a fresh way of filming car chases. There are minimal over the top effects and the feel is as if we are in the car chasing this guy along with the characters. The camerawork is also aided by a brilliant score, which captures the mood of the particular moment well. Unfortunately though it is a glum movie meaning most of the score never becomes upbeat and is generally melodramatic.
The Place Beyond the Pines is a film that may have you leaving the cinema in a frustrated way. Frustrated because you have actually seen a very good film, with enough interesting characters and great performances, but also been left slightly hollow and empty in which the way this overly long narrative failed to give an acceptable ending. The excellent early sequence involving Gosling is the strongest part of the film but at nearly two and a half hours long, and a merely average final act, makes you forget the opening that initially drew you in. This isn't to say this is a bad film, because it really isn't, but it feels as though too little is being told in a movie that is actually too much. See it for the performances and Cianfrance's direction but don't expect to leave the cinema in the happiest of moods.
Pros: The performances and direction really capture the mood Cianfrance wants to put across.
Cons: From an excellent start the film dwindles to a standstill and poor character motivations take you out of the story.