I had been planning on making this movie the first film I’d seen this year that I didn’t have to based on theater count. Then, Focus Features decided to give a nationwide expansion anyways this weekend so that particular title remains unfulfilled. The past few months having been filled with the brim with simply okay offerings, I was itching to finally see something truly great come out of 2013. With a cast like this and glowing reviews from most critics, it seemed more likely than not that The Place Beyond the Pines would break through the mob of mediocrity that has plagued the winter and spring seasons. Thankfully, a set of dynamite performances from Gosling and Cooper counteract an occasionally slow pace to make The Place Beyond the Pines the most powerful and memorable picture of the year thus far.
The Plot: 7/10
A motorcycle stunt rider turns to robbing banks as a way to provide for his lover and their newborn child, a decision that puts him on a collision course with an ambitious rookie cop navigating a department ruled by a corrupt detective.
There are a lot of things that the plot does well, but for the sake of argument I’ll focus on what it comes up short on. The first and foremost of these is length and pacing. The film can be divided up into three separate acts; the first focusing on Luke (Ryan Gosling), the second on Avery (Bradley Cooper) and the third on the pair’s respective children. Gosling’s act is by far the strongest, but while the other two definitely have their moments they don’t have nearly the amount of impact that the first forty minutes do. In addition, the transition between the second and third acts drags quite a bit due to the somewhat predictable nature of the time jump.
The Writing: 8/10
While the strength of the movie lies in its performances, the writing behind those performances is still noteworthy. There are quite a few memorable lines, such as the trailer-featured “If you ride like lightning, you’re gonna crash like thunder”. On the whole, the dialogue feels very genuine and makes it really easy to focus on the story itself rather than getting hung up on how real the characters feel.
The biggest strength in the script, though, is how well it handles the idea of moral ambiguity in its characters. A lot of movies try to tackle this angle by simply having main characters do both bad and good things, but The Place Beyond the Pines really nails it by completely removing morality as a frame altogether. It weaves together desperation, ambition, and guilt to the ultimate effect that mishandled attempts to act in the best interest of one’s children fuel every “evil” act. In this way it doesn’t matter that most audience members have not encountered the same situations as the characters on screen; we can all sympathize with the blinding nature of love.
The Acting: 10/10
If you’re planning on going to see this movie, this is what you’re probably paying the $10 for. If that’s the case, you will not be disappointed. Gosling gives what may be his finest performance to date, though that fact makes it all the more frustrating that his screen time is so low in comparison with the movie as a whole. His story arc burns bright and fast, and makes the rest of the film look slow by comparison.
Bradley Cooper also his hot streak from last year’s Silver Linings Playbook with a very strong performance here. His character is admittedly much more compelling during the second act than the third, and the story arc given to him isn’t quite as interesting as Gosling’s, but Cooper’s performance is easily deserving of an Oscar nomination assuming the academy isn’t distracted by some of the offerings that late 2013 will inevitably have in store.
The person that really surprised me, however, was Dane DeHaan (aka the kid from Chronicle). He has the handicap of the lackluster developments of the third act, but once he starts unraveling the truth about his real father things start to take a sharp turn for the nail-biting, he really starts to shine. Unfortunately, I couldn’t quite say the same for Emory Cohen, who plays Avery’s unremarkable “bad seed” of a son.
As a final note, if you’re expecting anything substantial from the female cast (which seeing as Eva Mendes occupies 1/3 of the poster space that wouldn’t be a huge thing to ask) you will probably be disappointed. This is a story of fathers and sons, and as a result there isn’t much of a place for the mothers and daughters of the film to make a name for themselves.
The Drama: 9/10
Again, the film’s dramatic quotient is pretty strongly tied with the aforementioned pacing, but when it hits its high notes there it doesn’t pull any punches whatsoever. There are several scenes that specifically squeeze every drop of tension from the actors’ performances, but some of the most memorable are the motorcycle chase scenes in the first act. In this sense I give a lot of the credit to director Derek Cianfrance, whose frantic cinematography makes the audience feel the sort of panic Luke is experiencing during the chases themselves. I couldn’t help but think of Drive in terms of how exciting the film’s chase scenes were without having to use the sort of over-the-top explosive action you might expect from, say, a Fast and the Furious movie.
The Verdict: 8.5/10 – Impressive
+ Incredibly performances from Cooper, Gosling and DeHaan
+ Amazing cinematography from Cianfrance
+ An interesting exploration into the cause-effect relationship between father and son
– Not as much Gosling as you’d hope; loses some steam at the start of the third act
Rotten Tomatoes: 80%
Fast Film Reviews: 4.5/5
The Cinema Monster: 9/10
The Code is Zeek: 4.5/5
Entertainment Maven: “Heart-Pumping”
Dan the Man Movie Reviews: 7.5/10
Mercifully Short Reviews: 6/10
Black Sheep Reviews: 3/5