‘The Place Beyond the Pines’ (2013): a shrinkwrapped TV show.

18 Apr

TPBTP“If you ride like lightning, you’ll crash like thunder” proclaims shady mechanic Robin (Ben Mendelsohn) to a  scruffy Ryan Gosling, our atypical hero. Not merely a nod to the Metallica “wifebeater” shirt he’s wearing, this line quite accurately sums up the main problem with The Place Beyond The Pines, which is that while the movie is trying to be this big, quasi-Greek tragedy of an epic, it ultimately fails in its quest and plummets back to Earth in a shower of underdeveloped characters and silly tattoos.

Gosling plays Luke, a handsome but damaged stunt biker who hurtles around one of those spherical cages on his trusty motorbike along with two of his equally mad colleagues. But upon discovering his young son, which he discovered spawned from a fling he had with Romina (Eva Mendez), a bedraggled waitress. Pushed to robbing banks, Gosling runs into Avery (Bradley Cooper), a rookie cop with a similarly-aged son to Gosling’s. The movie focuses on Cooper’s ascendency to the political realm for a while, before finally turning to the final chapter, which chronicles the two boys of the aforementioned fathers.

This is a long movie. A triptych in which each segment builds on the former, this is a story in three parts: the first third deals with Gosling, the second with Cooper and the final one with their offspring. Despite its gratuitous runtime of 140 minutes, it remains too short for what it wants to be: director Derek Cianfrance manages to butcher what could be a well fleshed-out story, and instead leaves us with a bare bones tale which simply can’t support the massive weight of its ensemble cast, extended time frame and a heady “sins of the father” theme. In a perfect world, this would either be a two-part movie or a serialised TV programme; as a standalone flick, it feels squashed.

I think of a film like Cloud Atlas; an even longer picture with a similarly large array of characters. What separates the two (and what makes TPBTP significantly worse) is focus. Cloud Atlas may be just shy of three hours long, but it never lets up for even an instant throughout – from forbidden romances to awesome sci-fi battles, it refrains from being boring. Unfortunately the same can’t be said for Cianfrance’s latest effort; unlike his previous Blue Valentine, this is a very unfocused romp that spends an awful lot of time setting things up, with relatively little returns.

So many little things annoyed me in this film: Eva Mendez’s pointy nipples in her first scene, Gosling’s ridiculous squeaky “tough guy” yell, that inexplicable scene where they dance with a dog, Cooper’s ridiculous sportswear… Actually, this film makes me wonder why the film-makers decided to hire three of the most ridiculously attractive faces in Hollywood to play grungy, grimy and impoverished urbanites. This is how actors like Ben Affleck got chosen for movies back in the day; why can’t we get appropriate-looking people? Gosling or Mendez at their least flattering are still going to look like movie stars.

Gosling looks less like a tough biker and more like a rejected application for art college.

Gosling looks less like a tough biker and more like a rejected application for art college.

There’s some very irritating foreshadowing that really drives me up the wall – for example, you know as soon as someone says that “___ might go off the rails!” then you know they’re gonna go off the rails! It’s a sign of really weak scriptwriting, as is relying on television news broadcasts divulging more information that would be realistically acceptable about dead criminals, purely for the sake of enlightening other characters. This happens more than once and really undermines the quality of the acting on display, particularly from Cooper, who is rarely not great in anything he’s in.

But he and the others all suffer from the same devastating flaw: nobody in this film is likeable, save perhaps Avery’s dad (played by Harris Yulin). Gosling means well but robs banks; Mendez consistently blames others for her own mistakes, Cooper is a liar and their kids… My god, their kids. Naming their actors may be giving them away, but it’s safe to say that both are infuriating, especially Cooper’s, who plays a rich white boy who pretends to be straight out of the ghetto. Since almost everyone is inherently unlikeable, it’s really tough to get behind any of the characters in this, and as such we as viewers have nobody to root for, when we’re clearly supposed to feel sympathy or empathy; all we get is apathy.

An underdeveloped plot that’s almost as malnourished as most of its cast, The Place Beyond the Pines is a grandiose snooze that paradoxically manages to be too long, yet not long enough for what it wants to be. Brooding and overly self-serious, it’s not very enjoyable. Still, points for trying!

Simon says: too little and too much all at once.

 

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