The Place Beyond the Pines: On Second Thought Thursday

There’s a reason why Drive and The Place Beyond the Pines don’t have Gosling talk all that much. He’s got a funny yell.

AT FIRST, I WAS LIKE:

CINEMA!!!!!! I loved The Place Beyond the Pines on my first viewing and I thought Ryan Gosling’s performance as Luke Glanton was dynamite. He’s good at a lot of things, but he’s especially good at playing cool. Glanton’s silent demeanor matched with his precarious lifestyle made him the coolest character in the entire film and it’s obvious where director Derek Cianfrance’s interests lay. The first portion of Pines was definitely the best part of the film because it had the motorcycles, it had the tension, but most importantly, it had a morally questionable protagonist who you ultimately sympathized with. Even with such a powerful first act, I thought the following two acts were pretty neat too.

Acts II and III might not have the same energy as the first act, but they do sport some excellent performances and the third act is an emotionally resonant payoff to everything set up prior. The first act is Gosling’s movie, the second act is Cooper’s, and the third act is Dane Dehaan and Emory Cohen’s story as the sons of Gosling and Cooper respectively. Of the two, Dehaan’s performance was the standout for me because he has that same quiet personality as his father, but there’s a bit of violence brewing underneath the surface. Cohen is good too, but I didn’t see the relation between him and Cooper. The big theme of Pines is if the sons are doomed to follow the same cycle as their fathers and the third act gave an impactful answer to that question.

BUT NOW, I’M LIKE:

My fellow readers, it wasn’t by chance that I chose to review The Place Beyond the Pines. From the farthest corners of online film discourse, I’ve seen and read many reviews criticizing Pines as a frustrating movie with a strong opening but a lackluster middle and ending. I came into this rewatch with those criticisms in mind and after years of putting off this rewatch, I acknowledge those criticisms, but I’ll be damned if I didn’t say I still enjoyed this movie. The first act is still the most enjoyable, but on this rewatch, I found myself enjoying Cooper’s performance as Avery Cross a lot more than I had previously. The character isn’t nearly as cool as Gosling’s Luke Glanton, but it was never supposed to be. Avery and Luke are two sides of the same coin. At the end of the day, they’re both fathers trying to do right by their families, one just happens to be a criminal while the other pursued being a cop.

The first act perfectly sets up who Luke Glanton is and what he wants, and even though his means of achieving his goals are morally unsound, you at least understand where the character’s coming from. You can’t really say the same for Avery Cross because his introduction starts during Act II and once he shows up, Pines goes through a “narrative whiplash” by unceremoniously dispatching Luke Glanton in order to make way for our new protagonist. It’s already a large demand to have the audience suddenly follow an entirely new character when they’ve spent a good portion following a different character’s story, but to also have to juggle an extra storyline that feels superfluous to the main themes of the film? Good luck with having anyone get onboard. On top of having Avery dealing with the relationship between his wife and son, Act II also has to deal with the fallout of Luke’s death as well as a random subplot involving police corruption. Adding all these extra plot points ultimately make the film feel narratively uneven and thematically muddled.

IN THE END, I’M JUST LIKE:

It’s an ambitious project, but Derek Cianfrance asks for too much from his audience without putting in the work to get them to that point. With a runtime of nearly two-and-a-half hours, Pines uses none of that time to properly set up its characters and their relationships to each other; things just happen because the plot needs it to happen. The cinematography has quite a few great moments, particularly a tracking shot of Glanton walking through the carnival at the film’s opening. There are also two separate shots of Luke and Jason riding down the road in a gorgeous overhead shot which further drives home the themes of legacy and fatherhood. It stumbles along the way, but it eventually reaches the finish line with a satisfying conclusion.

2 thoughts on “The Place Beyond the Pines: On Second Thought Thursday

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