The Place Beyond the Pines
The film has a great cast that drew me to it with Gosling taking the lead, Eva Mendez, Bradley Cooper, Ben Mendelsohn were co-starring but the Festival blurb was offering little. It became clear why it couldn't quite early on, after all it might give too much away.
Quite early on I was surprised that there was much more to it than the Festival outline had suggested, but then it couldn't give too much of the story away for fear of spoiling it. Early on the film turned around, but it couldn't seem to keep it going.
There's something surprising about The Place Beyond the Pines, it isn't the film you expect to be watching, not at all. The film is not just about the story of Luke, the character played by Ryan Gosling, it moves forward rather more quickly than you might expect and the story turns to another character whose life collides with his, that of Avery played by Bradley Cooper. In fact there's even more of a surprise as the film moves on from his story to become that of his son.
So while the blurbs might be selling them on Gosling, he's just a part of the whole film, and not that big a part either. In fact I'd be more inclined to call this Bradley Cooper's lead.
Mind you, I'm not the great fan of Ryan Gosling that everyone else appears to be, I find he plays the same character every time, the droopy faced, troubled character. With this film the differences are his circumstances, his tattoos and his chain smoking, otherwise we're looking at the same character from Drive (Filmstalker review), and a few other films for that matter.
Actually, as an aside it's very noticeable that it's just the bad characters who are smoking. I'm not sure if that was a deliberate act on the part of the film makers or whether it was just by chance but it is extremely noticeable especially with Gosling and Ben Mendelsohn lighting up in just about every scene.
The film opens with a long sequence that grabs the attention immediately as the camera follows Luke from his trailer to his motorbike and drives into the cage to perform his act. For the most part it is a great scene and filmed in a dynamic and natural style reminiscent of so many great films featuring long tracking shots. However it seems to lose intensity at the end when the camera moves in to watch the action in the cage. The camera zooms in way too close and we can only make out a blur of the motorbikes going by. It seemed confused and unfocused and lost my attention. After this great build up it's a little like we missed the point, almost ruining all the good work the introduction had done.
The first act of the film with Ryan Gosling, does seem to play out with a similar theme to Drive and his character doesn't feel too different, yet that doesn't spoil it. There are some good differences, even if it is impossible to like his character, in fact it's all too easy to hate him. There isn't a redeeming part of him and I found that difficult to deal with as I'm sure we were expected to like him in some way and find a sympathetic connection. Mind you, come the change of focus of the film the feeling that you were kept away from the character works out rather well.
I did think that The Place Beyond the Pines would play out pretty much as expected, especially after watching a short period of the first act of the film. Come the first change in focus there's a big surprise for the audience and it changes just about everything about their expectations for the film. It was a great moment feeling that confusion and uncertainty about what was happening and then to slowly realise where the story was heading as it unfolded on screen. It isn't often that you get that kind of feeling from a film and I really enjoyed that.
The next act which focuses on Bradley Cooper's character is the strongest. I enjoyed his story and it had the most depth out of all the characters in the film, characters who for the most part don't have that much complexity or depth to them, so it isn't that surprising that Cooper's character manages to shine since he's the most real and the most conflicted.
His story thread builds well and it does feel like it's going somewhere rather interesting but then it was ripped away with a very sudden "fifteen years later" scene that just shot us forward before it was properly explored. Just as I felt we were getting an interesting character with threads pulling against him and each other, we're pulled into the future and many of the aspects of the story forgotten.
This third act presented a bit of a struggle for me trying to understand the mumbling actors who played the kids that just needed a bit of a firm hand or perhaps an unhindered visit from the police. I also fought to ignore the warning sign that was flashing when these two met after just a few hours in a new school. It did seem a little too convenient for the story.
Still, as the thread progresses it begins to open up and you see the connections building with the overall theme of the film and the core of the story. It's here that you start to understand what the film has been building to tell us and it is an interesting and thoughtful message. However once again I just felt that it failed to deliver, even at the end there are a good few dramatic choices and none of them follow through.
This gave me the feeling for much of the film that we were being led to a point and given the temptation of something more fulfilling only to have it pulled away just as we thought we were getting somewhere.
This feeling doesn't just ring true for the three threads themselves but for smaller moments such as the wife seeing something in the garage that she shouldn't have and then dropping it until the fifteen years later thread where we return to her with a mere hint of that moment; the Assistant District Attorney post and the pledge that they wouldn't remain in the role is just forgotten about; the police who were sent to jail and never reappeared; the long ride to the woods during which no one did anything; the parents not seeming to care about the missing child, and so on.
Come the end you do understand what the film was telling us, the circular nature of our lives, but this too feels as though it hasn't been explored or explained enough, just offering us the glimpse and then turning away.
I have to admit that during the film I checked my watch a few times and suffered from numb bum syndrome, something that clearly shows I am not engaged. It didn't help that the film seemed plagued with pacing and editing issues with long overly lingering shots, shots which sometimes felt repetitive, it even felt as though the music was dragging on.
I do return to the point that Bradley Cooper was very good in the film and his character and thread were very engaging, so much more could have been made of his story.
Oh and I have to point out the very amusing speech that the step father comes out with to his son, that had a few laughs going in the audience.
I also think that Ben Mendelsohn is worth a mention, he gives a good performance too although the on screen relationship between Ryan's character and his does seem rather odd. A number of times it seems that Mendelsohn's character is about to assault or proposition Ryan's, something that is hinted at more in their final scene together. It's as confusing as it is subtle and clouded their thread somewhat.
Bradley Cooper and his character thread are the reasons to see this film, or if you absolutely loved Drive (Filmstalker review) and want more of the same from Gosling then this is for you, otherwise this is a disappointing film.
Cooper is very good here but the film doesn't give him the story, even if his act and character is the strongest out of the entire film. Threads are dropped, never allowing them to see a decent conclusion. The film lingers and broods too long in places and leaps over others where there could have been something more interesting to offer the audience.
I did struggle with the film and while it has its moments, as a complete package I felt it was disappointing and left me unfulfilled.