Big spoilers will take care of little ones.
This was a hard movie to watch. I really wanted to stop watching it every time the focus changed. If you’ve seen movies than play the long game, this one takes the cake. It is not a slow burn, because you’re not necessarily waiting for something but the pacing of the movie might test some viewers. This is not an action film, as much as the trailer or the first act would have you believe. It is very much a drama and a bit of a saga.
The Place Beyond the Pines (2012) was directed by Derek Cianfrance and written by him along with Ben Coccio and Darius Marder. It is a story that spans many years, starting with the story of Luke Glanton (Ryan Gosling), a wandering motorcycle stuntman that discovers he has a son, Jason, from a past encounter with Romina (Eva Mendez). Stunned but determined to become a part of his son’s life, Luke stays in the small town of Schenectady to try to provide for his son although Romina has already moved on and is living with Kofi (Mahershala Ali). Despite all that, Luke wants to provide for his son.
Luke ends up accepting to help out as a mechanic assistant for a guy he meets called Robin Van Der Hook (Ben Mendelsohn) who owns a decrepit auto workshop and who also allows him to stay in a trailer home. But business is not booming and Robin suggests another gig where Luke can put his motorcycle skills to good use: Robbing the local banks. You’d think this is where the movie picks up and I’d agree with you, but it’s only temporary. Eventually things go too far and that’s where Luke’s story seemingly ends abruptly. And so, we meet office Avery Cross (Bradley Cooper) who we will follow from then on.
That’s where I’ll stop since it wouldn’t be fair to give it all away, but you’ll notice how the movie changes the focus character from time to time. The first arc, if I can call it that, ends abruptly and the introduction of Avery is also kind of sudden. The movie does tie up the main characters with a little nostalgic detail later on, but it does feel like we’re left behind. Perhaps there’s a lesson there about not going back, but there’s also a lot about how crime affects both the lawful and the chaotic, if you’ll allow me the RPG alignment reference.
I was engaged firstly in the chaotic life of Luke, but then to put that all away to try to connect with Avery felt like a betrayal. Luke was a person of natural skills, passion and loved his son enough to step over any laws. Avery was by the book, but easily swayed by team mentality and willing to compromise morals for ideals of honor and pride. In breaking the law, Luke tries to rise above his supposed station but he stays true to what he is. In trying to enforce the law, Avery uses what he knows to get ahead in life but becomes a hypocrite by using the system to his advantage.
The final story does tie everything together by revealing the destinies of both Luke’s son Jason (Dane DeHaan) and Avery’s son AJ (Emory Cohen). Although we start with the focus on AJ, he’s the entitled asshole that gets everything handed to him with zero charisma. Jason, on the other hand doesn’t seem to have any agenda until he starts digging around his own past and the identity of his father. I wanted to side with him and I did like his finale far more than everybody else’s but it did made me long for a less constrained story.
I wanted to enjoy this movie. The music worked, the performances were great and I was onboard with the first story after a rocky start. But after some key events that change our perspective, we’re basically learning someone else’s story. There are commonalities. Characters’ conflicts come from their compromises and choices that force them to go against their intended way of life. That has worked in other films but in this one it felt very taxing to become invested in the first story and then leave it behind. Once the focus shifted I felt like I got nothing for my efforts. The audience expects a payoff to their investment on a character. Perhaps it was just not the movie I wanted to see at the moment.
I’m going to put my usual recommendation on hold. I might revisit this film someday. I can see how some people will find it engaging, but for me it was the opposite. I just kept wanting to turn it off and walk away from it. I did want to see how it would wrap up, but I just dreaded going back to it. It does have memorable characters but they don’t really feel developed to their full potential. It is a drama, so don’t be fooled by its action scenes, they’re not part of the movie. It has good performances so some audiences could enjoy it. I just felt like the story never reached an interesting enough depth for me to be invested in any of its characters.
That will do for now.