The Place Beyond the Pines: fathers and consequences
The Place Beyond the Pines (2013) has a lot of ambition with some big performances from both Ryan Gosling and Bradley Cooper. The film is a triptych, starting with Gosling’s character, Luke Glanton, discovering he has a child with a one-night stand, Romina played by Eva Mendes. The film then progresses toward two other stories, the final one separated by a 15 year period.
The Place Beyond the Pines reminds me of previous crime dramas like The Godfather Trilogy and Goodfellas, and to some extent films outside of the crime drama like Rebel Without a Cause (1955). Gosling’s Glanton character is reminiscent of James Dean’s character, Jim Stark, in Nicholas Ray’s film. He is a troubled and earnest young man with determination to do what’s right. Unfortunately, once Gosling leaves the film, it never recovers from his absence much like the characters in the story.
This is the central problem of the film and it happens at the level of both the screenplay and the execution. Let’s begin with the latter because the story itself on the page will take more time to explain its problems and I tend to lose most readers right about…now so I need some incentives to keep them reading until the end.
The second story that follows Glanton’s exit involves Bradley Cooper’s character, Avery Cross, the cop that kills Glanton after a robbery gone wrong. I liked the way the film transitioned here. Cross enters the story nonchalantly. The audience is given a signal like “new protagonist entering here: pay attention.” Rather, Cross enters, Glanton dies and we are left with Cross. The ease at which Cianfrance transitions recalls Hitchcock’s graceful film making in Psycho. The transition is executed with so much ease that you don’t even notice it.
Cross’ story makes up the middle story within the film and is fairly interesting but again not as good as Glanton’s narrative. It is a story of guilt, police corruption, and redemption. Cross’ story then transitions to the final one of the film. 15 years later we are introduced the two sons of Cross and Glanton: A.J. Cross and Jason Glanton.
Here’s where we get into execution problems. We had one very interesting story, followed by one relatively good story, followed by a ridiculous finale. The acting and direction in the final act of the film is the worst. Which is too bad because the film had potential to be much better than it turned out. Both kids of Cross and Glanton is tedious, boring, and silly characters. Their acting and characterizations were cliched and their stories were far less interesting than the rest of the film.
Here’s where we get to the script problem or I should say story problem. The film proposes that nature is more important than nurture. Jason Glanton was raised by a loving step father and a caring mother, yet he is just like his father. He is unable to act outside of his genetic code and ends up becoming his father, in the same way that A.J. Cross becomes like his father. This is where the movie completely lost me. It fails because of its final act and it’s ridiculous decision to depict humans as completely determined by their nature and not by their social context.