Published Apr 11, 2013Admirable as Derek Cianfrance's intimate crime saga is for its unconventional structuring and character-driven examination of why some people choose to run afoul of the law, The Place Beyond the Pines struggles to cohere into much more than a testosterone-fuelled argument for the necessity of biological paternal influence. Without giving too much away, it's pretty clear where the Blue Valentine director and his writing partners land on the topic of nature versus nurture.
Even though Ryan Gosling's badly tattooed mug takes centre stage in all the marketing materials, Pines is firmly broken up into three chapters — essentially a short film trilogy in one go — each inextricably linked, but featuring a different lead.
As a socially awkward motorcycle stuntman for a travelling carnival, the motivations of Gosling's Luke are barely more coherently realized than those of his vacuous sociopath in Drive. When the semi-despondent adrenaline junky discovers that a fling with a waitress in Schenectady, NY has born tiny human fruit, he elects to ditch the transient lifestyle in order to fulfil his sense of obligation as an unwanted sperm donor, even though Romina (Eva Mendes) already has a committed partner.
Lacking financially viable skills, Luke turns to robbery to prove his worth as a father. During the ensuing crime spree, he crosses paths with idealistic rookie officer Avery Cross (Bradley Cooper), the results of which ripple out across the years to influence the lives of their families and co-workers.
From an acting standpoint, Pines is packed with quality work. Cooper, in particular, has never been better (and certainly never subtler) and though everyone from Ray Liotta to Dane DeHaan (Chronicle) submits a solid variation on a previously played character type, Ben Mendelsohn (Animal Kingdom) steals the show, putting on another master class on how to disappear within a role.
Cinematically, Cianfrance needs to learn that there's a time and a place for shaky cam — spending a little effort on artful shot composition goes a long way towards creating a symbolically impactful visual aesthetic. Acting as the thematic glue holding this ponderous film together is Mike Patton's tasteful score, which skilfully juggles motifs that inspire both menace and tenderness without becoming overbearing.
The same cannot be said for Cianfrance's forced metaphor of coming out on the other side of the dark woods of the soul. (eOne)