Ten Word or Less Review – Three below average movies for the price of one.
After seeing Blue Valentine I had no doubt that Derek Cianfrance was going to go to be a director of considerable talent and ambition. That poised, destructive relationship drama hit the kind of cords that few films about marriage dare glance at or utter under their voice. But that confidence and ability have to be questioned after experiencing The Place Beyond the Pines. On the surface it looks and feels like the kind of ambitious, layered drama Clint Eastwood could make and win Oscars for the effort. But in Cianfrance’s hands the story becomes unwieldy, unending and every single character is, to be blunt, a tactless dummy that fails to think five minutes beyond their actions.
The story of Pines is indeed a sprawling one. To make it concise as possible, which is not possible, we meet Luke (Gosling), a carnie motorcycle stunt man who finds out he’s got a newborn son via Eva Mendes. He decides he wants to stick around and be a dad but Mendes has hooked up with a new fellow who is taking care of her and the kid. He’s a very nice, giving fellow who doesn’t deserve the shafting around he gets. To support them, as riding a motorcycle in a ball doesn’t pay the bills outside the circus, Gosling starts robbing banks. This doesn’t go well. The story then jumps over to Bradley Cooper’s rookie police officer. He’s shot while pursing Gosling’s bank robber. He becomes riddled with guilt and worry about Gosling’s son and begins to distance himself from his own. He also discovers that many of his fellow officers are crooked assholes who are up to no end of foulness. Cooper decides to rat them out. This doesn’t go well. Next we jump to 15 years later. The sons of Cooper and Gosling are now in high school together. Gosling’s son (Dane DeHaan) has become a shaggy stoner while Cooper’s boy (Emory Cohen) has warped into J-Woww from Jersey Shore. They form an unlikely friendship, mostly because DeHaan can score drugs, and DeHaan gradually unravels the dark past about their fathers. This doesn’t go well.
All of this sprawl equates to three movies worth of narrative with gradually diminishing results for each one. Gosling’s segment is concise and skilled and even though you’re with characters whose motivations and actions seem poorly thought out, Cianfrance builds and directs his story with conviction and suspense. There’s even a Suicide song on the soundtrack! But this sensation of the poorly thought out character never goes away and gradually eats away at the foundation. Each lengthy part of the story keeps getting caught up in the thoughtless, implausible and stupid actions of it’s inhabitants. Mendes has a nice, responsible fellow who takes care of her, loves her son who and doesn’t care that he isn’t his. She repays him by looking Gosling up, essentially trying back door him and ruin their lives. Gosling knows that he’s not welcome in this guys house. So he goes in and starts building a baby crib while they’re out. I give you one guess as to what happens when they come home and find him in the house. Bradley Cooper decides to turn in his fellow cops for being crooked and then has the audacity to be shocked when his superiors don’t want to know about it. Hasn’t this asshole ever watched a cop drama? Dane DeHaan’s character has clearly grown up in a loving home with good parents, so it makes little dramatic sense for him to get hung up on the fate of a father he never knew and who was nothing more than a motorcycle riding bank robber. Every story element has some kind of senseless character element embedded in it which becomes more and more of a struggle to deal with. By the time you’ve reached it’s merciful end, you’re ready to wash you hands of these people and be done with the whole thing.
Those of you in the crowd expecting to see another searing performance by smoldering hunk of the moment Ryan Gosling will in fact get that, for 45 minutes. I like Gosling and he’s fine here but he’s sticking to his wheelhouse. The quiet, dangerous pretty boy that women swoon over, Hey Girl, is what he’s best at and that’s what he’s doing. We do learn an unfortunate fact about Gosling though. The man can’t scream for his life. Cooper is fine in his part but he’s one of the biggest victims of the screenplay’s inability to instill any sense of reasoning in any of it’s characters. Eva Mendes is here so that the male characters can thrust money at her in shallow attempts to alleviate themselves of guilt. Dane DeHaan and Emory Cohen play a stoner and a grease ball a little too well. You don’t want to spend any time with either of them and by the time the movie reaches their story, you’re already worn down to the nub.
The real person to point the finger at for this mess is Cianfrance. It’s his screenplay that fails the movie. He knows how to shoot a movie to be sure. Pines looks fantastic, giving a beauty and integrity to Schenectady, New York that a lesser filmmaker may not have found. But with every turn of his story he losses the audience a little bit more. A judicious story editor would have hopefully talked him into scaling things back. The whole ’15 years later’ sequence feels needless and anti-climactic. Way too late in the game to introduce a whole new story arch with unlikable characters. And a helpful soul should have told him that Cooper’s segment peddles way too many cop drama cliches. If Cooper’s character hasn’t seen any then Cianfrance surely has.
The Place Beyond the Pines is a big disappointment from a talented individual. It shows ambition and a willingness to put a lot in front of an audience and trust in their abilities to deal with it. But since it’s so hamfisted in places and feels like a run on sentence by the time its done, one has to ignore those virtues and deal with the fact that this movie is ass numbing by the time its over.