Saturday, May 4, 2013

Film Review: Derek Cianfrance's The Place Beyond the Pines

At two hours and twenty minutes, many would say that The Place Beyond the Pines is too long, and even though I am not one of those many, I would say that the film does seem like two films for the price of one.  One film stars Ryan Gosling and the other stars Bradley Cooper.  The trailer shows a film that stars both Gosling and Cooper, but in reality, they share just one scene together, and even that lasts less than thirty seconds.  Otherwise, we get a Ryan Gosling film, blended together with a Bradley Cooper film, and it isn't necessarily too long, but it does drag at times, most notably when Gosling isn't around, and we are left with the solid but still quite bland Cooper to try to liven things up - a thing the actor has never been able to do all that well in past movies, and is made even more glaring when placed in a film with an exciting actor like the Gos-man, even if they do not share the screen much.  In this way, the film suffers some, but the film's main problem is the rather cliche'd narrative that never really goes anywhere unexpected, instead just telling an obvious story in the most obvious way.

Directed by Derek Cianfrance, the man who gave us the intensely emotional relationship killer, Blue Valentine a few years ago (also starring Mr. Gosling, along with Michele Williams, in what were probably the two best performances of 2010), this new film never delves as deep, never goes as far, never sinks its teeth in as viciously as the director's debut film, and that, ladies and gentlemen, is the films one biggest, most glaring problem.  Sure, Bradley Cooper may be a boring actor, and it shows here, but it is the typical storyline, the pedestrian narrative, the sheepish screenplay dressed in wolfish clothing, that makes the film ultimately fail.  Basically, the film is the story of Gosling's motorcycle stunt driver turned bank robber and the effect his life has on Cooper's hero cop turned slimy politician, and the ramifications both men and their actions have on their sons.  With twists and turns throughout (most of them obvious, at least one a real surprise), Cianfrance's film plays at being a taut thriller - and at times, it does manage at least a bit of that desired tautness - but never comes through as anything much at all. 

Granted, the film is certainly not what one would call a bad movie - it does have the Gos-man after all, and Ray Liotta doing his best Ray Liotta, and Cianfrance does hand us a quite beautiful looking film (cinematographer Sean Bobbitt follows through on the visual promise shown in Steve McQueen's Hunger and Shame and gives hope for the look of Spike Lee's upcoming Oldboy remake), and sometimes this is enough, but here it most certainly is not enough.  A shame really, because Gosling is a fierce actor, and deserves material that challenges that ferocity, and Cooper needs a film that will snap him out of his usual humdrumness, because boring or not, he does have something there, a spark of something, that could make both an intriguing character actor and a dangerously erotic leading man someday (think Matthew McConaughey, and what he has done lately).  Neither actor finds that in The Place Beyond the Pines though, and we as an audience suffer because of it.  A shame really.

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