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Short Takes: The Place Beyond the Pines

By Nicolas Rapold

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(Derek Cianfrance, U.S., 2012)

The Place Beyond the Pines Derek Cianfrance

With his 130-minute new feature, Derek Cianfrance may imagine that he has orchestrated an audacious multigenerational epic. In reality he has effectively made three movies here where one might have sufficed in an effort that suggests his limitations as a credible storyteller.

Part one stars Ryan Gosling (once again utterly unconvincing as riff-raff) as a Drive-esque cage-match motorcyclist who turns to bank robbery to support the infant son he didn’t know he had (after a tryst with Eva Mendes the previous year). In part two, the media-hero cop (Bradley Cooper) who brings down the heist artist tries to capitalize on exposing corruption in his department by going into politics. Part three is for the kids, specifically the teenaged wastoid progeny of cop-turned-politician and stunt biker.

Motivation is the weak link here, with characters major and minor making choices that don’t compute and/or serve mainly to advance the narrative down the next twist of track toward the tragedy looming on the horizon. Cooper’s segment in the Schenectady-set triptych musters the most complexity, and manages some kind of recognizably American reality with its renditions of get-ahead ambition and class tension.

Cianfrance’s Blue Valentine (10), with its unwieldy narrative and striking visuals, exhibited a similar boldness. But in The Place Beyond the Pines, much of the above merely reflects the filmmaker’s ambitions, rather than serving apt characterization.

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