I guess director Derek Cianfrance likes contrasts. In his previous movie, Blue Valentine, interloped the first and final days of a marriage in a emotionally visceral portrait of romantic relationships. It featured two incredible performance by Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams and was one of the best movies of 2010. In his latest movie, named The Place Beyond the Pines, he does another kind of comparison. This movie divides its time to take a look at the lives of an outlaw and lawman.
The outlaw, played by Ryan Gosling, is an expert motorcyclist. He works at a travelling stunt show where he rides in the "ball of death". Early on in the film he discovers he's had a child he didn't know about with Eva Mendes. On the other side of the spectrum we have a policeman played by Bradley Cooper, who also has a small child of his own. The movie has a number of twists that connect these two men, and I guess it would inconsiderate of my part to spoil them. But I will say this: these two guys' lives do connect.
Cianfrance makes sure we get the idea that these two are not that different after all. So much so that by the time we arrive at the third act the parallels in the lives of these two men and their families become so apparent and on-the-nose that the movie gets sillier and disappointing. The more the plot advances the least interesting the film becomes. This is a pity, since there is a lot of ambition in what Cianfrance intended to do in The Place Beyond the Pines. The movie is supposed to play as a family saga exploring themes of fatherhood and predetermined fate. And while the ambition is there, the film falls very short.
The two most important contributors to the movie's weakness are the uninteresting characters and the already mention constant contrasts in the story-lines. The way the movie is structured doesn't let us really explore the characters. Even the leads' personalities remained largely confusing to me after the movie ended. They feel more like chess pieces for Cianfrance's endgame than actual characters and I think that wasn't the intention. Secondly, the thematic ideas. Like I said before, the constant contrast gets tiring and the moral questions the movie raises seem disappointingly naive (I know I shouldn't compare, but some of the movie's plot points reminded me of The Wire, and God knows it's going to be hard to stand tall after a comparison to one of the most brilliant television shows ever made).
It's not that the movie is not enjoyable. There are some very good performances in it. Especially by Ben Mendelsohn and Dane DeHaan who manage to bring out genuine emotion out of some rather underwritten parts. There is also a lot of nice details that show a lot of originality from the filmmakers, but sadly not enough as to counter the clunky plotting. There are some thrills and nice moments in The Place Beyond the Pines, but at 140 minutes, it takes way too long to make its point.