Robbing banks, crooked cops and politics don't really factor into the any parental mantra, but co-writer/director Derek Cianfrance squeezes it into his guide to fatherhood in The Place Beyond the Pines that, unfortunately, strangles the sublime moments with mediocrity.
A motorcycle stunt rider, Luke (Ryan Gosling), starts robbing banks to provide for his lover (Eva Mendes) and their newborn. Luke's crime spree puts him at odds with a rookie police officer and new dad, Avery Cross (Bradley Cooper), who is trying to move up the ranks of the police department to provide for his family.
The Place Beyond the Pines is a film of two distinct halves and it works to provide a dual character study between Luke and Avery of paternity and legacy. Luke’s journey is outstanding. Driven by an extraordinary performance from Gosling; who taps into the reserves of James Dean's stash of cool; can express the genuine pain and guilt of a father who wants to provide for his child. A shroud of mystery surrounds Luke and you can feel a history of neglect that he is desperately trying to break for his offspring in low socioeconomic circumstances. Motorcycle riding is an outlet for his anguish and Cianfrance crafts heart-pounding sequences with Luke carving through narrow forest tracks and the bank heist chases drain the body of adrenaline. Even Luke's t-shirt he wears for a majority of the film represents his attitude; a shirt emblazoned with the Metallica album cover ‘Ride the Lightning.’
Despite a decent performance from Cooper, Avery's side of the story that takes up a huge bulk of the film's second half is marred by all the clichés that come with corrupt police officials. As soon as a detective played by Ray Liotta shows up, doing the shady act Liotta has been doing in every film since Goodfellas, there's a steep drop in quality. Cianfrance and co-writer Ben Coccio (with a re-write from Darius Marder) overload the story with corruption, politics and a massive time jump of 15 years (where none of the adults seem to age) that sullies the excellent ground work they've laid down with Luke's side of the tale. There is an attempt to bring the story full circle using Luke and Avary's teenage sons that's way too coincidental and it breaks what's believable in the gritty reality Cianfrance has created. It's as if Cianfrance is reaching for something akin to the cross generational crime drama of The Godfather Part 1 and 2, but it ends up getting stuck in the bland arena of bent cops that has been overdone to the point of fatigue and you really feel this tiresome plot device in The Place Beyond the Pines.
Playing another sweaty chain-smoking degenerate (see Killing Them Softly), Ben Mendelsohn continues his cinematic charm offensive and he is a magnetic presence in The Place Beyond the Pines. Mendes aches through the role of a suffering loved one but it's a powerful supporting performance that's far from the write-off female role given to Avery's wife played by Rose Byrne.
The score from Mike Patton (former Faith No More front man) adds a haunting aesthetic to the film that matches beautifully with the eerie cinematography of Sean Bobbitt whose camera slinks around winding roads and rips through woodland areas.
After a superb first half you could probably walk from the cinema satisfied with The Place Beyond the Pines. It's a shame to forsake that satisfaction by witnessing a well laid plan completely fall apart.
Cameron Williams - follow Cam on Twitter here: @popcornjunkies