Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Man on Film: The Place Beyond The Pines

Having thought quite highly of the emotional wrecking ball that was Derek Cianfrance's 2010 breakthrough Blue Valentine and seen nothing but positive buzz about this film, it was nearly impossible to not have high expectations for The Place Beyond The Pines despite going in nearly completely blind.

While there were elements that worked quite well, the film's unwieldy narrative structure--and most importantly its uneven and quite distinct three acts that spanned a 140-minute stretch of time that felt more like 180 minutes--made for a disappointing moviegoing experience.

Much of this owes to the film's strongest section being its first act. If one were looking at the first act as a genre film independent of the rest of the film, it would be difficult to not come away completely enamored with the film. On its own merits, the first act is a brilliant bit of motorcycle B-movie exploitation. Ryan Gosling is every bit the badass that he was in Drive, but Luke Glanton is much more complex than Driver was, allowing Gosling to run the gamut from boyishly charming to unhinged and volatile. In fact, there's almost nothing not to love about this first section of the film. Eva Mendes is surprisingly dextrous as the downtrodden former flame trying to piece together her life on the fringe; the motorcycle stunts are fucking visceral and exhilarating; and the spectacular Ben Mendelsohn knocks his supporting part out of the park.

Unfortunately the first section is only the first section. The film trudges on through two more lengthy acts as Cianfrance explores the theme of the sins of the father permeating their progeny. Each of the subsequent acts drags more than its predecessor, the air is slowly let out of the movie, and by the time we get to the film's conclusion, its impact is diminished by the question nagging the viewer: when will this fucking movie end?

To be fair and forthcoming, there are elements of these latter acts that work. Bradley Cooper does what he can with his role. Just as Luke Glanton is filled with pathos, so is Cooper's Avery Cross. His journey, his conscience, and the ethical dilemmas he faces are all at least moderately engaging. Is Avery's section as electric as Luke's? Absolutely not. Fortunately, Cooper is adept enough to take the audience wincing along with him. Hell, if the film had simply concluded with a little coda after the Avery section, you'd probably have read this review months ago when I actually saw the film.

Instead, Cianfrance and co-screenwriters Ben Coccio and Darius Marder tacked on the third act with Luke and Avery's sons (played by Dane DeHaan and Emory Cohen, respectively) playing out the string as their fathers' sins infect their lives. Perhaps if the sons, especially Cohen, were played by young actors with more gravitas--I'm extremely familiar with DeHaan's work, and he can play emotionally fragile and volatile, but it seems like he lacks the ability to thrive doing anything else--then the film wouldn't have ended on such a sour note. Cohen's performance not only lacks gravitas but is grating. Each line he delivers screams Long Island, well at least when you can understand him through the marbles that he's got lodged in his mouth. Moving past a performance that sticks out so plainly as inadequate, it's hard to say that the film would have been saved with a different actor in the role. The final section would have likely fallen flat regardless of the performances. The Place Beyond The Pines's conclusion is simply too long coming and is almost entirely punchless. Perhaps the final section plays differently if the film hadn't peaked at least 90 minutes earlier. That isn't the movie that we got, though, and The Place Beyond The Pines ends up uneven at best.

The Place Beyond The Pines is available for pre-order on DVD and Blu-ray on Amazon (their release date is August 6th) or you can stream on Amazon VOD as of today. Don't take my word on it. Watch for yourself.

3 comments:

dtmmr.com said...

Good review Josh. The cast is great and definitely aren't to be blamed. However, the script does shoot itself in the foot once it goes on too long, and gets more and more melodramatic. Too much for it's own good really.

jaclyn said...

did you read james franco's review of this film? it was pretty amazing. i think you might like it.

i agree with you about the length of this film. i really liked the first and third act, but the second act just dragged on to me. bradley cooper did a great job, but i think the script was just too long.

also, the two boys in the third act have totally turned me off to having children. those boys were fucking douche bags - well cooper's son for sure.

Josh Duggan said...

dtmmr.com,

Always appreciate the kind words. Thanks for the continued readership.

Jack,

Make sure I remind you of this next time you start waxing ecstatic about kids. As for the Franco review, spot fucking on. Pretty much exactly how I felt, though he loved the rest of the film, a much stronger feeling than I had.

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