The Place Beyond The Pines

“We should go see the last Ryan Gosling underworld-y flick before we see the new one tomorrow!”

And so it was that we journeyed to finally see The Place Beyond The Pines (before hitting Only God Forgives the next day) in its limited run at the local(ish) discount theater.

TPBTP was favorably received, the latest effort by writer/director Derek Cianfrance, who did 2010’s well-received (if wholly depressing sounding) Blue Valentine also with Gosling. Critics and moviegoers ranked it around 80% on Rotten Tomatoes, e.g.

We would tend to disagree.

This movie is, in fact, three different (and sequential) stories, only the first of which is with Ryan Gosling. The Flower leaned in and whispered “Bait and switch!” (She also earlier spotted a motorbike-mounted-camera shot and said “Evil Dead rip-off!” I’m so proud.)

This is a really hard to thing to do successfully in a film. I was trying to give the kids some examples of it working and came up empty. There are anthologies that work. There are movies with disparate stories that are only thematically connected that work. There are movies with separate stories where the stories ultimately tie in together—that’s pretty common.

But a movie where the stories are both causally and casually related? They don’t leap to my mind. (I couldn’t think of it at the time, but American Pop works pretty well, up to the ‘60s/’70s.) I think there’s a reason for that.

The first story here is about Ryan Gosling who discovers that last year’s fling has produced offspring and who takes it on himself to provide for the youngster the only way he can: through crime and violence. (And a theme that I think carries over from Blue Valentine: Baby Mama Eva Mendes is perfectly happy to hook up with him again behind the back of her stable beta provider, Mahershala Ali.)

This is a kind of compelling story, in the vein of Dead End, in that Gosling’s sole noble motivation is the care of his child and (to a lesser extent) the child’s mother. He’s basically a murderous thug apart from that. There’s really only so far you can go with that.

The movie takes that to its logical conclusion and gives us Bradley Cooper, the ambitious lawyercop who stops Gosling’s reign of terror (mostly through dumb luck) and catapults himself into a DA position.

Then, after that plays out, we flash forward fifteen years (most of the movie takes place in the late ’90s) when Gosling’s kid and Cooper’s kid (mostly through dumb luck) meet and befriend each other.

Yeah, there’s a whole lot of coincidence here. And, I guess, thematically, this is about the sins of the fathers being visited upon the sons. The problem we had was that we didn’t care. The characters reveal themselves through their actions, which is generally a good thing, unless those actions don’t make sense to the audience. Then it’s just stuff that happens.

That’s how we felt. All three of us.

The other thing was that when the Gosling story ended, the momentum of that story stopped, and the movie stopped with it, dead in its tracks. The next story doesn’t ever build the same momentum, but what little is built is killed. The last story never really builds much momentum as the two kids seem virtually interchangeable.

Which kind of bugged me. The DA’s son had the same thuggish marble-mouthed manner of speaking as the bank robber’s son. And since the bank robber’s son was raised by nice, middle class people who enunciated clearly, it didn’t even make sense for him to talk like that.

A minor point. It’s not that we hated it, but we felt it lost momentum at the end of act one, and just got slower after the end of act two. Really, we were debating whether the third act was the longest. (I think it was the shortest but felt the longest.)

Anyway, another day, another Ryan Gosling underworld picture, and the next one would be flat out weird.

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