Director: Derek Cianfrance
MPAA Rating: R
Film Pulse Score: 5/10
Can the sins of the father truly come back to haunt the sons? Will who we are now determine who they will become? Can the best of intentions create the worst of situations? Is coincidence the same as fate or is it the other way around? Fate and destiny are the underlying themes that Derek Cianfrance explores in his crime drama The Place Beyond the Pines.
The film opens with Luke, a stunt driver who learns he has a one-year old son with an old flame. Desperate to provide for his family he begins robbing banks. Small hits at first but then he starts getting greedy. When Luke has an encounter with a rookie cop, Avery, the second act begins and the film then follows his story. Avery also has a one-year old infant son but he is emotionally distant from him. These first two acts are quite interesting especially how they dovetail together. It actually works. However as the second act’s conclusion draws closer you are left to wonder just where is this going. A title card on black appears “15 Years Later” and the third act begins as the film now follows Avery and his teenage son. In exploring the themes of fate and destiny the film relies heavily on coincidence, especially in the third act, that it ultimately becomes its undoing.
It’s incredibly unfortunate because the film had potential. Look at Paul Thomas Anderson’s Magnolia. It’s a film steeped in coincidence and it works from beginning to end. The third act hinges on a moment of pure chance that if you don’t buy into it you won’t buy the rest of the story. However even if you do bite the final act is riddled with clichés and stereotypes that it loses dramatic impact. Also we are never given clear reasons why the characters are where they are and we are left to assume why. When that title card appears you might have an idea of where this was going. When certain characters meet in the third act you may know where it was going and sadly you may have been right. This viewer may not have known how it would end but just knew it was going to go there. In the case of Magnolia I had no idea where any of it was going to go but in the end I absolutely loved it.
Despite this the film does feature fine performances by the entire cast. Ryan Gosling appears to be doing a variation on Drive but is still quite good. Bradley Cooper does a fine job playing younger and older versions of his character. Eve Mendes is underutilized but is very good as Romina, the mother of Luke’s child. The rest of the cast also features Harris Yulin, Ray Liotta, Bruce Greenwood and Rose Byrne. It is just a shame that the material doesn’t live up to the performances that these actors have delivered.
Cianfrance has done a much better job directing the film then helping co-write the story. He managed to pull sold acting from his actors despite the material. The film features some great cinematography by Sean Bobbitt. It is also well paced and edited because the film is never dull despite the familiarity of the material and 140 minute running time. But the main problem is the thin material itself that prevents this film from becoming a great one to just average. Damn shame.