A story of fathers and sons in the forested lands of New York State. The film tracks two generations, first following Luke the bank robber and Avery Cross the cop, and then their respective kids. The Place Beyond the Pines is frequently beautiful and impressive, but turns tedious and boring towards the end.
It is a story in three parts, each part about 45 minutes. In the first part we meet Luke (Ryan Gosling), a stunt motorcyclist who travels around the country with a circus. He resorts to robbing banks to support himself and stay close to his son, who is living with Luke’s ex and her husband. The second part is about Avery Cross (Bradley Cooper), an honored cop in the same town where Luke settles down. Cross uncovers corruption in the local police force. The final part is about their sons who grow up and suffer from their fathers not being present.
Let’s first talk about the good stuff. The story is set in the city Schenectady, among the forested hills of New York state. It is beautifully portrayed in the film, with hazy views of the hills and moody dark roads underneath the high green canopy. There is a quietness to this place that is full of atmosphere. Then there are tracking shots in the film that are really stunning. Especially in the first half with the bank robberies and car chases, those were very exciting. The acting is all round perfect with great casting. Gosling, although he isn’t in the film much, has the strongest presence and plays an intriguing character. He channels his role from Drive (2011). The film starts out in the 80s or 90s and then moves towards modern times in the later parts, and the feelings of these times are evoked very well.
The Place Beyond the Pines asks a lot of the viewers. After 45 minutes you are nicely settled into the movie; we get to know Luke the driver and his ex-girlfriend (Eva Mendes) and we are invested and the story is set to unfold further in interesting directions. Then suddenly, the whole cast flips. All new characters come into focus and we have to make a mental switch to start investing in a whole group of new people. And then 45 minutes later, the film repeats the same trick, or offence really, because by that time I don’t have the energy or interest to start investing in a third group of new characters. I’d rather stick with one group. Of course, all three parts are connected and interrelated etcetera, but it turns into a marathon saga.
There are two further problems with this story setup. The first part with Luke the bank robber is the most interesting part, perhaps because we get to know them first but also because there is the most excitement and drama and the most interesting characters. And the second and third stories are less and less interesting, ending with some high school drama. I’d actually recommend to take two short breaks between the three parts to work up some energy.
The second problem is that after the first 45 minutes, it becomes clear that the film is going to play with certain predictable themes. It is clear that the lives of Luke the criminal and Avery the Cop are going to show similarities. And when we shift towards their sons, it is clear that the film is going to tackle themes of sons taking to their fathers and genetic determinism, and of karma catching up with people. Once you notice this, once you know what the film’s deal is, it becomes a bit excessive and predictable. From that point on, I’m just waiting for everything to play out. And the film is taking its bloody time to get there.
So. Beautiful, moody and evocative: I give it credit for that. But with a chewed out theme that turns boring. The film is too long and sometimes never seems to end. I would have liked to see more integration of the three parts of the story to make it a stronger whole, although the final part does tie things up nicely. It all seems a bit forced and lacking storytelling momentum. It could also have used a stronger emotional release at the end.