It’s hard not to enjoy a film where Ryan Gosling gets tattooed up and drives very fast. And for a while, The Place Beyond the Pines is highly enjoyable – visually striking, stylish and with a big dollop of cool, it’s a much more ambitious film than Derek Cianfrance’s Blue Valentine. But it’s that ambition which I think dulls the impact it could have had.
The first part starts with Gosling tattooed up and driving a motorbike very fast (NB nothing like Drive, when he was tattooed up and drove a car very fast). Gosling is mesmerising as fairground stunt driver Luke Glanton who gives an old flame a lift home and comes away with a bit more than he expected – turns out he fathered a son last time he was in town. It’s a bit of a shock to the system and when the fair leaves Schenectady the next day, he hangs around aiming to make good with Romina (Eva Mendes, great but wasted) and his surprise offspring. Trouble is, the only way he can make money to impress them is by getting into trouble.
Schenectady is also home to Avery Cross, a rookie cop played by Bradley Cooper who we meet in the second part of the film. He’s ambitious, and not afraid to rub people up the wrong way to get what he wants, but there’s a sentimental streak too which his run in with Luke has left deeply buried. Avery might be doing the right thing, but it’s for the wrong reasons and he’s a hard character to sympathise with. It feels like a very different film from now on, the coolness has vanished and is replaced with a fairly stoic police procedural. Even my old favourite Ray Liotta as an evil-eyed bad cop isn’t used enough to save it.
By the final part I was bored and a bit cross (it was at this point that the woman next to me rang home to tell her folks what time she’d be back for tea). We’re 15 years or so on now and the focus is on Luke and Avery’s sons. I suspect they might have been swapped at birth – Luke’s son is quiet and fairly decent, while Avery’s is a drug taking bully. The story loses its thread here and although you can see what Cianfrance is trying to achieve, the long windedness and slightly gauche plotting meant I didn’t really care what came of them all by this point. The startling momentum of the first act is long gone.
Worth seeing for the opening scene alone, The Place Beyond the Pines lacks enough focus to be anywhere near good as it could have been. Great performances all round though, and hard not to approve of any film where Ryan Gosling gets tattooed up and drives very fast.