The Place Beyond the Pines

Rating: No patron should be allowed to enter the theater with either knives or nail files, as many will be inclined to cut themselves before leaving.

The Place Beyond the PinesLet me simply say that Director Derek Cianfrance’s The Place Beyond the Pines would have served a better purpose if used solely as a promotion for Xanax in a TV commercial. Depressing from beginning to end, it is a step down from Cianfrance’s previous collaboration with Ryan Gosling in Blue Valentine (2010). It lacks the latter’s irony and human pathos, which may have been because no woman was remotely given the heart and damaged soul of Michelle Williams.

In summary, Ryan Gosling plays a motorcycle stunt driver who discovers that he has fathered a child a year earlier with a fan played by Eva Mendes. Deciding that he needed to change his ways and find a way to support his son, he elects to rob a series of banks, using his motorcycle for his escape.

Sadly, there is little that is compelling about Gosling’s character, known simply as Luke. He is a massively tattooed work of bad human art, which  includes a teardrop by his left eye. His clothes are nothing more than a severely ripped white T-shirt and torn jeans, and it is impossible to imagine what Ms. Mendes could find attractive about him.

The film takes a mildly intriguing detour with the appearance of Bradley Cooper as a police officer. Unfortunately, it quickly heads into a dead end. Cooper and Gosling shoot each other in a confrontation, leaving Gosling dead and Cooper severely injured. Given that Cooper also has a 1-year old son in his own marriage, you know right where this film is heading when it suddenly catapults 15 years into the future.

I have probably already told you more than you needed to hear, so forgive me. Unfortunately, the film descends into a labyrinth involving failed marriages, crooked cops and two 16-year old boys profoundly twisted by their fathers’ connected past. It’s not who wins or who loses, as the simple reality is that you really don’t care.

Let me make it clear that I am a great fan of Mr. Gosling, and I personally think that Matthew MacConaughey has been following his dramatic lead in recent acclaimed performances. Gosling was flat out magnificent in Drive (2011), and nailed several meaningful performances in Lars and the Real Girl (2007), Fracture (2007) and Half Nelson (2006). Furthermore, he alone helped The Ides of March and Crazy, Stupid, Love (both 2011) survive at an artistic level that they would not have otherwise achieved.

Sure, his recent appearance did nothing to save this year’s disaster Gangster Squad, but even the best actors have regrets on their resume. Nonetheless, I for one believe that his propensity to embody a semi-loveable psychopath is running a bit thin.

I should also note that Bradley Cooper is fine as an angst-ridden police officer dancing with inner demons. Regardless, while his performance here will help you forget the legacy of The Hangover films, it doesn’t rival his Oscar nominated performance in last year’s Silver Linings Playbook.

It would be unfair to ignore the contributions of both Rose Byrne and Ben Mendelsohn. Ms. Byrne has a small role as Mr. Cooper’s caring wife, and it is clear from the beginning that she may have been the smartest person in the film.

Mr. Mendelsohn again plays a borderline psychopath with limited aspirations and absolutely no regret as he previously did in last year’s Killing Them Softly and in Animal Kingdom (2010). As a guy always chasing a buck, he helps convince Gosling that bank robbery may be the ticket for success if handled properly.

Regardless, save The Place Beyond the Pines  for a moment when you wish to punish someone for their gnawing, excessive exuberance. Just don’t ruin your day by sitting with them when they see it.