The Movie Waffler New Release Review - The Place Beyond the Pines | The Movie Waffler

New Release Review - The Place Beyond the Pines

An encounter between a bank robber and a cop reverberates across two generations.

Directed by: Derek Cianfrance
Starring: Ryan Gosling, Eva Mendes, Bradley Cooper, Ben Mendelsohn, Rose Byrne, Bruce Greenwood, Ray Liotta, Dane DeHaan, Emory Cohen

Luke (Gosling) is a motorcycle stunt rider for a touring carnival. While performing in the town of Schenectady, New York, he reconnects with Romina (Mendes), who he enjoyed a sexual encounter with while performing in the town the previous year. When he learns Romina is raising his infant son, Luke leaves the carnival and takes a job at a local garage so he can contribute to the child's upbringing. To raise cash, he teams up with garage owner Robin (Mendelsohn) to perform a series of bank robberies. When his cockiness gets the better of him, Luke bungles a heist and finds himself coming up against local cop Avery (Cooper).
A recent internet phenomenon is the "fan-edit", whereby films are re-cut by fans and posted for download on various websites. A lot of these are gimmicky; 'The Phantom Menace' with Jar-Jar Binks removed comes to mind. A small minority, however, actually improve on the original. One such edit of David Lynch's troublesome 'Dune' transforms the film immeasurably, turning a garbled mess into a straight-forward narrative. 'The Place Beyond the Pines' is crying out for a fan edit, one which swaps its linear story-telling for a 'Godfather 2' style flashback structure. As it stands, Cianfrance's film plays out in three distinct consecutive acts but the trouble is none of them are interesting enough on their own. Had the three story-lines ran parallel, it would have kept the viewer's interest for a lot longer. It may sound like a gimmick, but it's a gimmick that would work. Cianfrance used this technique for his previous film, the excellent 'Blue Valentine', to great effect.
The biggest problem with the linear structure of 'TPBTP' is that the film's trump card, Gosling, exits proceedings far too early, (though the film's marketing campaign would like you to believe his is the lead role). The characters we're left with just aren't as interesting, thanks to weak writing. The pivotal character is really Romina, but the writers ignore her in favor of a macho sausage fest. Cianfrance is aiming for a 'How the West Was Won' style sprawling family saga, but his ambition is writing checks his screenwriter's talent simply can't cash.
There are moments which reaffirm the promise the director showed with 'Blue Valentine', but these are moments of silence. When characters begin talking, the movie descends into blandness. The opening shot is one of the most thrilling pieces of cinema you'll see all year, with Cianfrance employing a clever, but quite simple and old-fashioned, camera trick to fool us into thinking Gosling the actor is performing a death defying stunt himself. The film is crying out for more energetic moments like this.
While his ambition has to be applauded, Cianfrance may have tackled this story too early in his career. Some critics have labelled the film a flawed masterpiece, which is giving him far too much credit. We've seen this type of story handled immaculately in the great American melodramas and westerns of the fifties. Set against  this context, I can only label 'TPBTP' a failed masterpiece.