Caroline Miller ’15Staff Writer
Though “The Place Beyond the Pines” tries to provide multiple narratives of life in a depressed city, ultimately this three-act film feels choppy and uninteresting at times, with only certain performances and directing decisions making it worth watching.
The first act follows Luke Glanton (Ryan Gosling), a blonde, tattooed, talented, and brooding motorcycle daredevil who turns to a life of crime in Schnectady, NY, in an attempt to connect with and support his one-year-old child, Jason. Jason’s mother Romina (Eva Mendes), however, wants nothing to do with Luke. Ultimately Luke’s ambitions get the better of him, and he is—spoiler alert!—shot and killed by the focus of act two: Officer Avery Cross (Bradley Cooper).
Cross, a morally upright and intellectual rookie cop, gets emotionally involved in Luke’s case, and becomes even more troubled when faced with the morally-corrupt police force (headed by Ray Liotta) he is a part of. His ambition to make the world a better place for his son AJ, and resolve his own conflicts, leads to him becoming Assistant D.A. of Schnectady.
The third act of the film deals with a teenage Jason and AJ, with clearly intended to show how the life choices of the fathers affected the fates of the sons. It is rather muddled, however, and we are mainly shown the activities of aimless ,degenerate high schoolers with nothing better to do than drugs.
This is undoubtedly Ryan Gosling’s movie. His character has the best writing and directing, his third of the movie is the most intriguing, and his performance is the most compelling. Perhaps that is because “The Place Beyond the Pines” is his second outing with director Derek Cianfrance after 2010’s similarly bleak film “Blue Valentine.” Each of the films stings with the apparent lack of sympathy towards the plight of their characters. Both films also employ ambitious but different forms of storytelling—in “Blue Valentine,” it works.
After part one of “The Place Beyond the Pines,” however, it starts to break down. Bradley Cooper turns in an okay (but not great) performance as the troubled but morally sound cop. After “Silver Linings Playbook,” we know he can act—but his performance is only decent in this film. I don’t really blame him, however. His third of the movie is has a number of undeveloped plot points and a truly unsettling undertone implying that without privilege and a great education he would have the same corrupt morals as the rest of the force. The supporting cast is fine but no one in particular stands out except Emory Cohen, who is spot-on to the point of unsettling in his depiction of Avery’s trouble-making guido son (my time spent on a boys’ hockey team introduced me to way too many of his type).
So I have a few final thoughts on the film. First, it is really beautifully shot and the music complements it well. Second, Ryan Gosling is great and the film should just follow his character. Third, the portrayal of Schnectady, NY as one of the most depressing cities in America is extremely powerful. Finally, the film was still worth watching because a third of the film can be spent staring at a tanned, muscular, blond, tattooed, and troublemaking Ryan Gosling.