The Place Beyond the Pines Shows Good Movies Can Be Forgettable

pines 1From the first trailer for The Place Beyond the Pines, it was clear the marketing team decided to utilize Ryan Gosling’s star power as a main attraction. And really, who can blame them? At that point in 2012, Gosling was riding high after a string of high profile performances in Blue Valentine (review here), Drive, Crazy, Stupid, Love and The Ides of March (review here). The problem, however, is that Ryan Gosling is hardly in Pines.

The film is structured to show the domino effect that is life. Each choice leads to a consequence that forces us to make another difficult decision. It’s natural and we all face these consecutive moments at one stage or another. As such, Pines begins with Luke’s (Gosling) choices as a motorcycle stunt rider who discovers he has a child he unknowingly left with Romina (Eva Mendes). His first decision is to stay and be the father he never had. A noble decision, but when he can’t make ends meet he turns to bank robbing.

Gosling essentially gives the same performance as he did in Drive, but with a little more dialogue and pain. Luke’s uncertainty with his choices comes through most prominently as his voice cracks while robbing small banks. He’s a man trying to do right by his family, but has been raised without the proper guidance to keep on track. Despite the brevity of his time on screen, Gosling does well to keep Luke multi-dimensional.

pines 2A brief encounter seamlessly shifts the onus of the story to Avery (Bradley Cooper), a rookie cop with higher moral standards than his colleagues. He too has a young child to support—with Rose Byrne, who is mostly absent—but had the type of upbringing that keeps him on track, or at least on the surface.

Cooper’s emotional input to Avery’s inner battle between upholding a moral code and staying loyal to dirty colleagues keeps the film afloat longer than it likely would have otherwise. At this point, Pines injects some social commentary about the abuse of power rampant in the police system and the overt blind eye turned to such despicable activities. Ray Liotta is perfectly cast as the top dog of intimidation and cruelty. Yet, these moments, just like most everything else in the film, are fleeting.

The final chapter of Pines jumps the timeline to show the effects that Luke and Avery’s choices have on their sons, whose paths cross. Here, Dane DeHaan, whose star has justifiably grown in the past two years, takes the reins from Cooper as primary support for the plot as Jason, Luke’s son. Emory Cohen, who plays Avery’s son AJ, squashes DeHaan’s efforts with an obnoxious performance. Consequently, the third and final segment of Pines ensures the film ends with a lackluster thud.

pines 3

Writer/director Derek Cianfrance, who also wrote and directed Blue Valentine, clearly has a knack for brilliantly structured films. Pines flows seamlessly from chapter to chapter with an appropriate logic. This does leave the film open to some holes, though, as the break between chapter two and three chooses to not show suspenseful events.

Cianfrance’s desire to tackle such a grandiose topic as the relationship between fatherhood and consequences fills Pines with information, emotion, exposition and crucial moments. As a result, the film does not equal the sum of its parts. The style may be subdued and quiet, but there is simply too much happening for too long a period—the film runs 140 minutes. Three distinct stories are told that could each viably be films on their own. By the end, a sense of apathy creeps in as the result comes with a desire to just move on without looking back—both by the characters and the audience.

The Place Beyond the Pines is well made, well acted and structured beautifully, but completely forgettable without a hint of remorse.

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