Overly long and honestly dull, Pines violates a cardinal rule of film-making.
On paper, the character drama The Place Beyond The Pines seems to have a lot going for it: a deep and very talented excellent cast with a sharp director whose 2010 Blue Valentine was a critical success. But that's where this overly ambitious film about fathers, sons, and the strange path of life runs off the rails, while violating a cardinal rule of film-making along the way.
When motorcycle daredevil Luke (Ryan Gosling, Drive) learns that a one-night stand with fan Romina (Eva Mendes, Training Day) has produced a son,. he quits the carnival and tries to make a normal life. Unfortunately, he soon realizes that his only option is to partner up for a series of bank heists with his boss. But a deadly meeting between he and newbie police officer Avery Cross (Bradley Cooper, Limitless) ends with Luke in the morgue and Cross the hero of Schenectady, N.Y. Realizing his future is not with the corrupt department, Cross parlays his newfound status into a successful career as DA. As his political career soon drives him to elected office, his estranged son (Emory Cohen) meets local loser Jason (Dane DeHann), who happens to be the son of the now-dead daredevil Luke. As the two descend into a world of teenage drinking and drug use, they confront each other about their father's pasts, forcing Cross to clean up their mess or lose the election.
If all this sounds heavy, even bloated, that's because it is. Pines burns so slowly that the wick seems to go out several times before being somehow re-lit, only to fizzle out again. There are entire stretches here that feel more like a death march than an engrossing drama. Far too many moments pass by when we're left wondering why Writer/Director Cianfrance left certain scenes in the film, including an unnecessary 20-minute section on Cross' efforts to undo the corrupt cop Deluca (Ray Liotta). I applaud Cianfrance for trying to create something ambitious, but Pines incorrectly assumes ambition automatically equals success. From Gosling, whose early exit is the movie's only real surprise, to the stolid performances of Cooper, Bruce Greenwood, and several very good but misplaced supporting actors, Cianfrance's tale misuses its assets at almost every turn. By the time we get to the reveal - which can be seen a mile away - any effectiveness is lost because we're wondering when will he wrap things up.
The one bright light here is the performance of Mendes, who plays the exhausted working mother with a quiet grace of someone just trying to stay out of life's way. But when she and Cooper hit the screen together, it just doesn't work. Overall, he seems to fare the worst of all, because his character is so poorly developed after Act 1 that he essentially becomes wallpaper instead of the vibrant center to our story. I doubt that was Cianfrance's intent, but the effect is noticeable as we descend into a terribly weak Act 3.
Fans hoping to see Gosling and Cooper together for more than one scene will be sorely disappointed, as The Place Beyond the Pines gets nothing right after their all-to-brief encounter. This violates a cardinal rule of film-making: give audiences what they want. Instead, Pines meanders and litters the ground with missed opportunities and too many dull passages to count. It isn't the worst movie of the year, but it does prove that even a stellar cast and interesting premise can get horribly lost. The Place Beyond the Pines is rated R for violence and has a runtime of 140 minutes.
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