After watching the first 45 minutes or so of The Place Beyond The Pines, you could be forgiven for believing you were viewing Drive 2: On A Motorbike. We have a quiet, brooding Ryan Gosling engaging in armed robbery to improve the tragic lives of a young mother and child. Sound familiar? Well, yes, and minute-for-minute this opening third of the film is every bit as good as Gosling’s triumphant thriller. And, if you’ve seen Drive, that is truly saying something. There is just something about Ryan Gosling that is endlessly watchable- he just exudes a quiet cool that you can’t quite seem to tear your eyes away from. As motorbike stunt driver Luke Glanton, Gosling effortlessly blends the enigmatic loner style of The Driver with the quiet everyman depth he showed in The Notebook. Simply, it’s a masterclass, and despite the solid work of Eva Mendes as the conflicted Romina, he is inarguably the best film about the incredible opening.
But then he’s gone, and for the next 100 minutes we are asked to carry on without him, and without its engine the wheels gradually start to fall off. You see, his is the first of three interwoven vignettes, and neither of the latter two ever come close to matching the heartbreaking hopelessness of Luke and Romina’s plight. Instead, we’re offered a fairly loathsome Bradley Cooper, whose undeserving hero cop Avery carries the weight for much of the remainder of the movie. Not to criticise Cooper, who continues his career progression from comedic up-and-comer to dramatic stalwart with consummate ease, but by this point there are so many strands running through the movie that they were bound to get tangled. There is simply too much going on, too many characters, too many subplots that either feel rushed or never get resolved. And when an 140 minute-long running time feels rushed, it’s clear that someone has been overambitious. In fact, if it wasn’t for the superb performances from the likes of Ben Mendelsohn and Ray Liotta in what could have been fairly redundant supporting roles, The Place Beyond The Pines could have died long before the ultimately unsatisfying denouement. The final act itself, seeing Luke and Avery’s sons meeting at school and learning that terrible truth about their fathers, is clearly supposed to be the emotional payoff but it all seems too neatly resolved, especially for such an epic, sprawling tale of corruption and violence. No-one really pays for their sins, and in such a convoluted tale where only motive separates the good and the bad, we could have at least expected a bit more grand. Because that’s what the Place Beyond The Pines is.
It’s an epic mess, a long, arduous journey through two generations of two tragic families, forever destined to curse each other. The understated genius of the opening near-hour merely serves to further highlight the overcomplicated chaos that follows, the odd flash of brilliance being washed away by a sea of bad choices- and the overwhelming disappointment that this could have been so much more than the near miss is ultimately is.