All you need is a little hug and support from daddy, and you won’t start robbing banks.
Handsome Luke (Ryan Gosling) is a stunt motorcyclist at the circus who returns to an upstate town where he meets up with a former fling of his (Eva Mendes), only to find that she has a baby of his. In need to support his child and soon-to-be family, Luke decides to start robbing banks and pulling off heists with a buddy of his (Ben Mendelsohn). After this, we see the cop who runs into a problem with Luke, Avery Cross (Bradley Cooper), and how he deals with the corrupt cops in his jurisdiction, while also keeping his head afloat. And we also see two kids, Jason (Dane DeHaan) and AJ (Emory Cohen), meet up together in high school, develop a friendship, and realize that there may be more between them that they never thought was possible.
Not only is this movie hard to describe with it’s synopsis, but it’s also even harder than hell to review it. Why? Well, it’s one of those flicks that just so happens to be built on the idea of it’s twists, it’s turns, and it’s surprises, which therefore means, any type of spoiling of those said twists, turns, or surprises, would not only be a crime against me as a critic, but a crime against you as readers. Also, it’s pretty damn hard to review, because I still don’t know how or what I still feel about it all.
What made me think this flick was going to be close to the second-coming of Christ, was not just the kick-ass trailer or the wonderful reviews it’s been getting so far, but was because of it’s director: Derek Cianfrance. Many people know the dude from his directorial-debut, the perfect date movie, Blue Valentine, and know that the guy has a knack and flair for telling an effective, compelling story just by using characters, plot, details, and dialogue. That’s it, and it’s nothing more. That’s why when it came to him tackling a flick that was like a mixture of the Godfather and the Town, I had no problem with it all, mainly because the guy seems like he knows what he’s doing and seems like he’d do anything that’s far from being deemed “conventional” or “predictable”. Granted, we’ve only seen him do one movie so far, but if that’s the consensus the guy has to work on: it’s pretty damn solid, I”d have to say so for myself. Sadly, this movie doesn’t come close to hitting his last. Sadly indeed.
But without jumping down it’s neck about the bad, let’s get into the good that will most likely lead into the bad. Rather than jumping back-and-forth from story-to-story without ever making it clear as to what the hell’s going on or how are these peeps’ paths going to cross next, we get three stories, that are told in their own, separate formats, without barely any interruptions at all. The first story is about Luke and how he handles being a daddy, but also a bank robber at the same time. Not only is this the most exciting story out of the three, but it’s also the best. The main reason being because it’s filled with so much energy, entertainment, tension, suspense, and emotional heart, that it gets you ready for what you think you’re about to witness. You automatically think that this whole movie is going to play-out like this first story where we all get all the action and flair, but still some grounded-sense of reality and depth, but that’s not how it all plays out.
Instead of doing the smart thing and keeping up with this sense of intensity, Cianfrance takes the film down a notch and keeps it grounded in the sense that we are watching a movie, and a tad predictable one at that. After we switch gears over to Cross’s story, we start to see the movie delve more into the conventional-side of itself where we see police corruption, people with badges doing mean things, and worst of all, Ray Liotta playing a sincerely, despicable human-being. He’s good at it, but can’t we put Tommy Vercetti up to something else nowadays. How about a role as an inspirational father-figure that does sensible acts for the rest of society? Huh? Not buying it? Oh well, at least I tried.
Anyway, where this flick takes a turn for the worse is not just because it begins to get, dare I say it, generic, but because it seems so obvious. Without telling you exactly what happens or how, there are certain elements of the plot that seem to be so predictable, that it gets to the time of where I could literally pin-point exactly who knew who, how they knew them, and how they were going to tell each other how they knew one another. It got to be a bit of annoyance and seemed more like Cianfrance took the idea of conveniences between two characters, as a way to show us that there’s a twist coming up, or something that we don’t seem to expect, but yet; we do.
That’s not to say that the whole film is like this, because as a matter of fact, most of it is damn good I have to say. There are moments where I was literally on-the-edge-of-my-seat without any other thought or idea that would take me away from this movie, anywhere near my head, and it completely compelled me. And that’s not just the Gosling parts, that’s the whole movie and it surprised me with what Cianfrance was able to bring up next, and how. The guy doesn’t depend on his dialogue here as much as he did with his last flick, but the atmosphere and mood is still there to mess with you and because of that, I have to still give the guy kudos for always allowing us to set our sights on something worth watching here. Can’t say that about many film makers who churn-out a movie a year, but thankfully, I can say it about this dude.
The problem is, after two hours and thirty minutes (yes, that’s how long it is), I was still left with an idea in my head: what the hell was that all about? The ideas and themes of there being issues between a father and a son, how we all look out for one another, and how hard it is to stay true to yourself in a world of evil and hate, are abundantly clear and here, and hit us in the face as much as beers to an alcoholic, but never seem to be worth the wait for. Honestly, when all of these stories do finally get the chance to come together, make some sense, and have us make up our minds on what to think of, it feels like a bit of a waste, mostly because nobody really solves anything. Gosling’s story ends a bit too quickly for us to feel like his life’s problems are solved, Cooper’s goes on and on without any clear happiness in sight, and the final story seems like it was all made for us to see how tension still arises, even as the new generations come alive.
It made no sense to me as to why this flick was named the way it was. The Pines definitely serve some sort of metaphor for each of these characters and the way they go about their business, but it didn’t seem reasonable. Certain things are said, and are left unsaid, but they never felt right. As the film continued to go on and on, these characters begin to pull off acts and stunts that not only seem unreasonable, but almost stupid. I get that people can deal with grief and sadness in all sorts of ways, but there comes a point in this flick where it just doesn’t make sense any more and feels like instead of dealing with real human-beings that have feelings, emotions, and a sense of right and wrong, we are dealing with a bunch of wacked-out peeps that act solely on a gut-feeling of anger and violence, without rhyme or reason. There are people out there who live like this, but in a flick like this, it didn’t seem right and didn’t make sense when you take the whole ending into actual consideration. If none of this makes sense to you now, please, go and see this movie and realize that there is a message to what I’m saying, as confusing and as bum-fucked as I may sound.
Thankfully, the ones that hold this flick together is the more-than-able cast of heavy-hitters that do what they do best: be compelling, no matter who it is that they are playing. The person from this cast that I think of the most when I say that, is without a doubt Ryan Gosling as Handsome Luke. Gosling not only uses that innate-likeability to his favor here, but also shows us that he still has the able chance to still scare the sheets off of us, and never know whether we can root for him, or boo him. Gosling has what it takes to make this character work and makes him the most fascinating out of them all, mostly because he strives to be more than just a convention: he actually has a beating-heart that doesn’t always make the right decision every step of the way, but at least tries to make up for them.
Eva Mendes plays his sugar-bunny that’s good, in probably the most-dramatic and compelling role we have ever seen her play before. Not only does Mendes do a perfect job at being able to not look hot or sexy, as hard as that may be for her, she also never forgets to remind us that this is a troubled and lonely woman, that we never lose sympathy for. Ben Mendelsohn is also a butt-load of fun and joy to watch as his buddy, a former-robber who helps him out nowadays, but don’t be fooled: this guy has a mean-streak to him that shows in a despicable-way.
Bradley Cooper is great as Avery Cross, the cop with a heart. Cooper really does well at being the type of guy we can feel for and trust, even when he doesn’t seem to do the right thing, and makes you understand why the guy has such a hard problem to think for himself, or take matters into his own hands. He gets to be a bit of a self-righteous dick by the end of this thing, but no matter what, he always stayed true to his character, his motivations, and what he strives for in life. Rose Byrne plays his wife, that I wouldn’t say is still in dullsville here, but doesn’t seem to have much to do other be a chick that never stops complaining about how he’s a cop and always has the chance of dying on the job. You did marry him, didn’t you? So why the ‘eff you bitchin’ at him?!? Let a guy do his job and get that money, money!
Lastly, the performances from Dane DeHaan and Emory Cohen as the two kids that meet-up in school, is good in the way that it paints an interesting portrait of what it’s like to meet someone, and not have any idea what to expect from them, but that’s about as much as I can tell you right there. Just know this, DeHaan is great and definitely uses that angst-fueled look to his advantage, and know that Cohen tries to do the same, but his character is too much of a dick for us to really care about him at all. Okay, I think you know enough by now. Time for me to shut up and just go the hell home.
Consensus: With a more-than-reliable cast, suspenseful mood, well-written characters, and interesting plot-changes, The Place Beyond the Pines never loses focus on it’s story or what it’s trying to convey about it’s character, but loses grip with reality and begins to get more and more theatrical and obvious as it goes along. No matter what, you will feel compelled by this, but it starts to shy-away sooner than later.
7.5 / 10 = Rental!!