Movie Review: The Place Beyond The Pines

Ratings for reviews will appear above the fold, while the review itself will appear below the fold to avoid spoilers for anyone that wants to go into it with a blank slate.

Jean-Paul’s rating: 3/5 stars

Hello, I’m Ira Glass.  Today on This American Life, we look into the relationships that fathers have, or don’t have, with their sons in three acts.  Act one:  “The Place Beyond the Pines”.  Stay Tuned.

Three of us went to see “The Place Beyond the Pines”.  As we walked out, we all had the same reaction.  I have no idea what to make of this movie.  I am still scratching my head.

There are three distinct acts in this movie.  The events of act one are the impetus for the events of act two and act three is more of one of those coincidences that only occurs in the movies.  That act three is also the most compelling allow you to forgive the movie made coincidence.

Act one follows bad-guy-trying-to-play-the-good-guy Luke (Ryan Gosling).  Luke is a great motorcycle rider and that’s about where his talents end.  While performing in a travelling circus, Luke runs into Romina (Eva Mendes), a former one night stand.  He discovers that that one night stand lead to him being a father.  Luke wants to do the right thing.  He wants to be a father to his newly discovered son.  Not being able to provide for his son like he thinks he should,  Luke falls into a life of crime.  This ends badly as every desperate crime spree must.  Act one is engaging and believable.  The characters may be far removed from your average movie goer’s experiences but you  just know that there are people driven by the same emotions and make the same mistakes.

Act two follows too-ambitious-for-his-own-good Avery (Bradley Cooper).  Avery is a cop who saves the day and becomes a hero.  He has a wife and a newborn kid.  He is the new poster child for the police department.  He falls in with the dirty cops and quickly finds himself in over his head.  Despite committing crimes, he is able to use his hero status to roll on his fellow dirty cops and land a sweet gig with the district attorney’s office.  This is the weakest of the three acts.  There is a suspension of disbelief that is required to allow yourself to believe that things would actually go for Avery the way they actually do.

Act three follows Jason and AJ, the offspring of Luke and Avery, fifteen years later.  Avery is now divorced.  Luke is now dead.  Avery is running for Attorney General and AJ wants to move in with him.  This leads to AJ switching schools and running into Jason when he recognizes Jason as a fellow stoner.  It is a compelling act that shows how the sins of the father are often visited upon the son and how the sons follow in the footsteps of their father without even realizing that they are doing so.  There is sadness and betrayal and a hint of redemption.

There are many recurring themes in the movie.  One of the themes works really well.  The people we run into is the company we keep.  Luke is pushed into his life of crime by a chance meeting.  Avery runs into his troubles by playing along with bad people.  The sons are almost drawn to each other by their shared experiences.  We rebel at the thought that our lives are so determined by chance encounters, but the chance encounters often drive us towards our triumph or our defeat.

“The Place Beyond the Pines” gives the audience a lot to think about.  It sets the viewer up for an ending and then goes in an unexpected and duller direction.  I think there is supposed to be a “you can break the cycle” message in it, but there is no setup to make it believable.  It is a mild quibble and there is a lot to enjoy in this movie, including some great acting all around.  But at the end of the day, if you’re left scratching your head, the filmmakers likely messed up somewhere.

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