‘The Place Beyond the Pines’ is no place to dwell

April 26, 2013

By Kevin Hyde
April 25, 2013

The great film critic Roger Ebert, who died earlier this month, often pointed out that, It’s not what a movie is about. It’s how it is about it. The Place Beyond the Pines is so tiresome at the how that I stopped caring about the what less than halfway through this overlong, tedious slog of a film.

Boasting a top-notch cast that includes Ryan Gosling, Bradley Cooper and Eva Mendes, this off-putting series of character sketches is a deeply unpleasant and unsatisfying film experience, an endurance test that offers no catharsis, illumination or satisfaction, only feelings of wasted time and misplaced investment.

Set in upstate New York in and around Schenedtady, the film is broken into three distinct sections, and actually starts rather promisingly. First, we meet Luke, played by a buff, bleach-blond Gosling covered in tattoos, including one of a small, blood-dripped dagger next to his left eye. A motorcycle stunt rider with a traveling carnival, Luke learns in the opening scenes that he is the father of a newborn, a son conceived with Romina (Mendes) during a previous visit. He is a proud and willing new father, although Romina lives in another man’s home.

In a scene of head-scratching awkwardness, Luke is befriended by Jack (Craig Van Hook) during a lonely ride in the woods. Jack is impressed with how Luke handles his bike, and immediately offers him a place to live and work, eventually introducing him to bank robbing. Eager to provide for his son, Luke is a quick study and soon finds himself on an all-out crime spree that ends badly.

That’s when the second section of the film begins. This one centers on Avery (Bradley Cooper), an ambitious rookie cop who garners hero status after being shot in an incident involving Luke. Recovering from his wounds, Avery soon finds himself delicately maneuvering within a police department rife with corruption led by a detective Deluca, played by Ray Liota. There should be a new stock character in movies called the Ray Liota character. In this case, Liota plays the Ray Liota character.

Avery is also the father of a newborn son, and the third section of the movie catches up with his and Luke’s sons when they are teenagers.

The Place Beyond the Pines does not lack ambition. I just needed some more entertainment value. The film seems to be a meditation on the nature of corruption and the cycle of privilege and deprivation, and the willingness to succumb to or to overcome one’s perceived fate.

Or something.

Like I said, the movie lost me. It’s slow and humorless. The writing is dreary, without one memorable line of dialogue. The characters are largely unsympathetic and, worse, not terribly interesting.

Before the first section was over, I noticed a few people walking out of the theater, presumably put off by Luke’s descent into more and more unredeemable behavior. I remember thinking, Come on folks. This thing is just getting started. We haven’t even met Bradley Cooper’s character yet. It turns out, they had good instincts. As the mournful, shrill caterwauling of singer-songwriter Bon Iver played over the closing credits, I found myself almost fuming. So you could say I was moved. I can’t recall the last time I was this disenchanted with a film.

I opened with Mr. Ebert, so I will close with him. No good film is too long, he liked to say, and no bad movie is short enough. The Place Beyond the Pines clocks in at 2 hours and 20 minutes, which was about two hours too long.

Kevin Hyde

Kevin Hyde is a freelance writer who has worked as a reporter for daily andweekly newspapers, edited regional and national magazines, written onpop culture for an international newspaper as well as several local,alternative newspapers. He can be reached at [email protected].