The Place Beyond the Pines (Focus Features, R)

pines 75The movie as a whole is a fairly major disappointment, and I just can’t tell you specifically why with a clear film critic’s conscience.

 

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Although I only had it at #8 on my 2010 top 10 films list, Derek Cianfrance’s Blue Valentine is one of those movies that gets better every time you watch it, and by now I’m pretty convinced that it’s an outright masterpiece. That is to say, by the time I had the chance to see Cianfrance’s follow-up, The Place Beyond the Pines, I was terribly excited to see what this incredibly talented filmmaker would do next. It didn’t hurt that it had him re-teaming with Ryan Gosling, Blue Valentine’s co-star, whom I like a lot, just like the entire rest of the world.

And the first hour of The Place Beyond the Pines is fantastic. As the long opening handheld shot of Gosling’s back as he walks through a carnival unfurls, you’ll get that feeling of, “Yes… This is the movie I’ve been waiting for!” We come to find out that Luke (Gosling) is a stunt motorcycle rider in the carnival, and the POV shots on the motorcycle and the shots that follow the bike as Gosling’s riding are very well done. (If you’re thinking here about how Gosling also played a stunt driver in Drive two years back, don’t worry about that too much; Pines takes the character in a rather different direction than that film did.) 

Soon after, we find out the nature of Luke’s job, we come to find that he fathered a baby with an ex named Romina (Eva Mendes), and that she seems to have intended to not tell Luke of the baby’s existence. When Luke finds out, he quits the carnival job so he can stay in town with his son. Since he needs to provide for him, though, he eventually turns to robbing banks with the help of a new friend named Robin (Ben Mendelsohn, whom you might remember from The Dark Knight Rises or Killing Them Softly last year, although he’s better here than he was in either of those films), who is very smart about how to successfully rob a bank.

Where it gets tricky is that this is not all the film is about by a long shot, but to explain much more of the plot than I already have would be to give too much away. And a shame that is for the sake of this review, too, because everything I’ve mentioned so far is as good as you’d want or expect it to be. But the movie as a whole is a fairly major disappointment, and I just can’t tell you specifically why with a clear film critic’s conscience. Some pretty significant plot twists come over the course of the movie, and we’ll leave it at the fact that they are pretty incredibly contrived (like almost Crash-level contrived), and also will have your suspension of disbelief packing its bags and leaving town.

The end result here is that The Place Beyond the Pines is one of those movies that suffers from the expectations. In the grand scheme of things, it’s a somewhat above-average movie, but coming from Cianfrance just after Blue Valentine it feels like a pretty serious disappointment. So if you want to see it I encourage you to do so, but do yourself a favor by not expecting another masterpiece, and also don’t read anything else about the film before you see it—I’ve already seen spoilers willy-nilly all over the web. | Pete Timmermann

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