Hot on the heels of Blue Valentine, writer/director Derek Cianfrance returns with this ambitious crime thriller, again starring Ryan Gosling as well as Bradley Cooper, Dane Dehaan, Ben Mendelssohn and Ray Liotta. It begins with stunt rider Luke (Gosling) discovering that he has a son and begins to rob banks in order to support him and his mother. After a certain pivotal moment a third of the way through the film, the narrative shifts to rookie cop Avery (Cooper) as he grapples with his conscience and uncovers mass corruption within the police force. The final act concerns Jason (Dehaan) as he goes through his own turmoil, trying to find out about the father that he never knew and discovering exactly what happened to him many years ago.

OK, so this film starts off quite conventionally; seemingly a cross between Blue Valentine and Drive, it’s basically about Gosling’s character finding out that he has a son and then turning to a life of crime in order to provide for him. Although Gosling is very good, this section of the film was pretty average and a tad uninspired. Granted, the motorbike chase scenes are thrilling and exciting but beyond that, it’s all pretty basic and predictable.

But then, after a certain event, the narrative shifts and Bradley Cooper’s character becomes the story’s main focus. Straight away, I thought the film suddenly became interesting and predicted that it would get much better from here on in. Indeed, this section of the story that concerns Cooper’s character adjusting to so many people calling him a hero while battling with his conscience was the most interesting part of the film. We are then taken into a plot line about police corruption, led primarily by bent cop Ray Liotta who is suitably nasty and dangerous. Although there is a certain air of “this has been done before”, these scenes are thrilling, tense, exciting and they form the main interest of the story. Liotta’s performance is brief but effective.

Then in the third act, the narrative shifts again, focusing on Dane Dehaan’s character as he essentially puts all of the film’s pieces together, rounding it all up and giving the film its closure. While initially interesting, the film runs out of steam here and by this point, I was willing the film to end as soon as possible. By this point, it is clear that the film is exploring the theme of crime though several generations; it’s ambitious but sprawling.

The Place Beyond the Pines is an interesting one; I don’t think that I’ve ever seen a narrative mutate so much. At one point, I began to ask myself “Is this the same film that I started watching?!” It seems to be two or three films in one, from the story of a father turning to crime, to a policeman taking on police corruption and then to a young man  uncovering the truth about his father. “Ambitious” is the key word here; Cianfrance tries to do a big, multi-layered film and while there are a few interesting scenes, ultimately it’s overlong, rambling and it loses its way towards the end.

Mike Patton’s score is great; it definitely adds a sense of danger and tension to the scenes. There is also a certain theme that is heard at various points in the movie, when Gosling, Cooper and Dehaan all appear on screen at different times; this cleverly establishes a link between all of the characters and reinforces the idea that all of these characters’ fates are interwoven.

A valiant effort at a cross-generational crime thriller, The Place Beyond the Pines is certainly ambitious, though overlong and overblown. Cooper’s the star of the show, although Gosling’s shadow is present throughout.

★ ★ ★

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