Too clichéd to be anything other than average5/10
This review contains some plot details.
The Place Beyond The Pines deserves praise for its ambition to weave together three stories linked to the same event in an art house style, however the only people who will walk away from this thinking it's anything more than a nice looking cliche are those who must have seen very few films.
Director Derek Cianfrance's film suffocates under the weight of its own attempts to be an epic drama, spanning 15 years and three chapters in the lives of all involved. This is a perfect example of a film forcing itself to be something it's not; there is never enough character arc or substantial depth of character development to warrant the overbearing 150 minute running time.
As mentioned, the film is complied of three stories, the first of which is easily the most accomplished section of the film, albeit far from original. We follow Luke (Ryan Gosling), a man with a violent history who now wants to care for Romina (Eva Mendes) and their baby boy whom she has kept a secret from him and now lives with another man. He turns to robbing banks in the small town of Schenectady, New York, and gives her some of the cash he steals. So, a man with the love of a woman in his heart jumps on to the desk at a bank and points a gun... Heat, Public Enemies, The Town, Point Blank have all told a similar story over two hours allowing the audience to invest in the characters, not cramming it into 30-odd minutes.
The success of this section of the film comes not from the dialogue or set-up, but from the great performance by Ryan Gosling, channelling some of the brooding madman vibe we saw in Drive. Gosling is a very effective actor with this smaller, character-driven material and the difference between him here and in Gangster Squad couldn't be greater. Cianfrance also demonstrates both excellent and awful directorial decisions in this act; the opening tracking shot is tremendous as is a car/bike chase which shows a fantastic new way of capturing the action from inside the police car in a single take, but then Cianfrance ruins it all when the action goes hand-held and the shakycam comes out like Paul Greengrass with caffeine jitters.
The transition from story one into story two introduces Bradley Cooper as cop Avery Cross in a delightfully matter-of-fact manner, not the way you'd usually expect to see a movie star introduced; he simply appears as a cop giving chase when Luke is attempting to get away from his latest bank robbery. This was a very nice touch.
The second story, however, soon has little to do with the opening story. After events which won't get detailed here, the story goes into a police corruption scandal which is familiar to anyone who has seen a Sidney Lumet picture, Copland or even recent trash such as Pride and Glory. The film is now rapidly running out of steam as everything unfolding is a cliche of much better films (again, see Lumet's work) and the crime thriller aspect which was set-up in the opening third is now over and, essentially, a new film has begun, and we have to focus now on caring about Avery Cross. However, the corruption case is neatly resolved with no impact whatsoever on the characters or audience and then the dreaded '15 years later' title card appears.
Fifteen years on and the third story begins, and the cliche machine goes into overdrive and The Place Beyond The Pines loses any interest it may have had left. Luke's son and Avery's son become friends! They both like drugs! They have both missed father figures in their journey to adulthood! But, remember everyone, AVERY KILLED Luke, so this new friendship surely won't fall apart within 30 minutes and one of the boys won't do a Google search on their father and throw away 17 years of good upbringing bar the occasional recreational drug indulgence to take revenge on the cop who is now running for District Attorney! Oh... yes it does and yes they do. It's just screen writing by connecting the dots and is wholly disengaging and uninteresting.
This final story ultimately sums up The Place Beyond The Pines; trying making something out of nothing for there is really nothing under the surface. Crime thriller, corruption story, father and son Greek tragedy, revenge story, family drama; this film wants to be it all but ends up like a film adaptation of a 600 page novel which was never written. Shame, because it would probably make for a great novel as well.