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'The Place Beyond the Pines:' A Promising Plot Spoils, Loses Focus

Not even Ryan Gosling's charm and good looks can save this film. Now playing nearby.

This column was written by Lori Wieczorek, editor-in-chief of Montclair State University's newspaper The Montclarion. "The Place Beyond the Pines" is now playing nearby.

"The Place Beyond the Pines" markets itself as a Ryan Gosling flick — which comes with the obvious expectations — but not even his good looks can save this movie from losing focus. 

The film opens with Gosling playing the role of Luke and a glimpse into his life as a motorcycle stunt driver. His rough, tattooed appearance is curbed by his boyish good looks and affability.

Within minutes, the viewer finds out that Luke has a past with Romina (played by Eva Mendes). The interaction is charged with sexual attraction but we have yet to find out the extent of their relationship. As it turns out Luke doesn’t even know the extent of their relationship. 

Director Derek Cianfrance, who's last film "Blue Valentine" also starred Gosling, elicited critical acclaim and ripped open our hearts. I was expecting a repeat of "Blue Valentine" when I sat down to watch this film, but I couldn’t have been more wrong.

"The Place Beyond the Pines" eventually leads to Luke’s new persona as a bank robber. Cianfrance manages to mount tension with the help of sound editing. The sound of Luke’s motorcycle drills into us and ramps our pulse and his voice during the robberies reinvents the meaning of a scratchy voice. Was this an intentional choice by Gosling? I’m not sure. 

The film should have ended when the narrative switched from Luke to Bradley Cooper’s character, Avery, a hero cop trapped in a corrupt system.

My issue with the film’s narrative is not simply because the storyline fuses into Avery, my issue lies in the fact that the script is too heavy. The film does not simply switch focus once, but three other times. 

"The Place Beyond the Pines" is structured to promise a type of revelation within a father-son relationship. Instead of revelation, the audience is exposed to a myriad of mismatched character motivation and caricature. 

Avery’s son is a caricature of a tough guy teenager. The film admits the ridiculousness of Avery’s son through dialogue but that doesn’t change the fact that the character is nonsensical and utterly unbelievable. 

Luke’s son on the other hand lacks proper motivation for his actions. He grows up in a relatively positive environment and has no reason to turn down the road that the film takes him down. The character that is built on screen does not match the character that speaks and acts. 

Cianfrance presents a myriad of narrative information that is subtle and the film had the potential to encourage active spectatorship. Instead, that subtle information and detail is repeated and the audience is beaten over the head with it in the most obvious ways.

"The Place Beyond the Pines" had such potential. The well-seasoned cast of actors and actresses made the film tolerable, but the plot spoiled before it even had time to flourish. Despite popular belief, Gosling does not transform any movie into cinematic gold. 

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