The Place Beyond the Pines

What does it say about me that I have a lot of minor complaints about this movie, but I still thoroughly enjoyed it? Will you still believe what I say, dear reader? Here’s hoping.

So, the title of this movie is sort of dumb. I can’t necessarily think of a better one, but I almost feel like it could have gotten away with being “Untitled,” had big-name stars like Bradley Cooper, Ryan Gosling, and Eva Mendes not been in it. If it were an indie movie in the truest sense of the word, maybe. But it wasn’t, and so we’re stuck with this storybooky title that doesn’t really do justice to the complex interwoven-ness of the story.

Of course, the storybookyness lends itself to that very word, story, because this movie is not character-driven. It’s all about what’s happening, not really who it’s happening to. The aforementioned trifecta are all very well and good, especially Mendes, but the movie’s strength is its careful intrigue. I’ve seen more thrilling movies, more suspenseful movies, and certainly more brutal movies, but I’ve never seen one laid out so methodically before. I mean that as a compliment. It seems that every loose end was tied up carefully. We know why everything happened by the end, we know who everyone is, we know how they relate to each other, and we know why they’ve taken a certain action. It’s oddly satisfying to have all of these elements in such perfect balance, for once. It even seems to come down to equal screen time; Cooper edges out Gosling’s screen time by a little bit, but neither are really the lead actor. And the two young guys who play their sons basically co-star in their own third-act mini-movie. I guess this means it’s an ensemble cast? Labels are so passe.

I do wonder what would have happened if the story had existed before, in book or short story form, and someone like Aaron Sorkin had taken a stab at the screenplay. Or, okay, maybe not Sorkin, but someone with a little more skill in developing characters. Again, I’m not claiming that this movie should have given more play to character development, because it would have been too much with the plot, but maybe some of the actors would have gotten their chance to shine. Cooper as Avery and Gosling as Luke are both great, but they were both pretty flat in this. Gosling’s tattoos did most of the acting for him, and the same goes for Cooper’s suits. Good thing they’re both easy on the eyes. (But they’ve had their triumphant works in the past, and certainly more to come, so it’s not a major knock that this movie doesn’t let them strut.) Mendes did a bit of method work, it seems, dropping weight and generally appearing outside of her normal realm of casual confidence. She plays dowdy and tired surprisingly well. I think this role might be a gateway for her out of the RomCom scene and into some “harder stuff” (for lack of a better term). And I rather enjoyed Dane DeHaan as Jason, Luke’s son. He channeled the Gosling cool without appearing to do a direct impression of him. But oey, Emory Cohen. I saw the face and instantly recognized him as Leo, Debra Messing’s insufferable, pointless kid on Smash. He is even more insufferable (though not actually pointless) in this movie. He is somehow cast as Avery’s kid, which is completely mind-boggling considering the strand of gorgeous that is his parents (Cooper and Rose Byrne, who morphs well into his over-it wife) and the supposed good upbringing that their way of life implies. Cohen is AJ, a wannabe Soprano in more than just the first name. He speaks like he’s from some non-existent borough of New York, desperate to fit in and stand out simultaneously, completely disrespectful of everything his parents ever gave him, and just generally annoying to watch over-take every situation. It hurts my heart to have to say it, but Cohen is just a bad actor. At least in these two prominent roles I’ve seen him in, anyway. If he wants to learn how to play scum well, he should have talked more to Ray Liotta. His brief, slimy part as a corrupt cop ringleader was almost too well-cast.

Before I go, I should probably dole out some basic plot points, since, you know, context. Gosling is a crazy moto kid who knocks up Mendes, then becomes a bank robber to provide for them, then gets shot by Cooper, a cop. Cooper becomes a hero, Cooper and Gosling’s kids eventually and accidentally become friends, Cooper’s life becomes a hot mess because his past comes back to haunt him and Jason (Gosling’s kid) is more emo than we ever thought. Something like that, anyway. I feel like I just wrote a YouTube commenter version of a synopsis, but I don’t want to say too much because, again, it’s fun (and dark) to watch the story unfold before you. Just be advised that you’ll come away from it feeling a little sad, and a little more skeptical of that thing known as “coincidence.” It can be a bitch sometimes.

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2 comments

  1. I saw this yesterday and it felt like it lasted for 100 hours. I think that there were very good bones of a story here but it needed to be edited, edited, edited. Both in script and in the final cut. Nice work all around (except for that little thug-wannabe AJ) but it could have been refined significantly. It never really set up which year the first act took place in but I was wondering. When it cut to 15 years later it made much more sense to me.

  2. stef · May 26, 2013

    Yeah, I was wondering about when it took place, too! That’s a good point. Bradley Cooper wore some very, uh, “timeless” suits.

    You’re right about the editing — though I didn’t notice it when I was watching, I think it’ll be an issue come awards season, which is to say “Pines” might not get as many nods as it seems to want. Someday, Gos…

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