There’s a class of movies that deserve “Almost Oscars”. These are movies that are quite good, but not quite Oscar Caliber film making. Something Like Looper, Drive, Scott Pilgrim, movies that are really great, but not something that should win Best Picture. Well with Place Beyond The Pines we have something that Almost deserves an almost Oscar.
This is a crime drama from Derek Cianfrance , featuring a fantastic cast. This is a movie about fathers and sons, choices and decisions and consequences and is a massive undertaking of storytelling and a very ambitious movie. The story spans two generations of a cop and a criminal and their sons. It stars 3 of my personal favorite actors Ryan Gosling, Dane Dehaan, and Bradley Cooper who are all fantastic.
Now right off the bat I had a grudge against this movie. First of I don’t believe any movie should be over 2 hours long. Film makers should keep their audiences in mind when making these movies and generally speaking most of the movies over 2 hours don’t need to be that long. Not to say I don’t like long movies, but it takes fantastic editing, story structure, and story pacing to make it work. So when I saw this movie was 2 hours and 20 minutes I already stuck my lip out to pout at it. I can’t stand really slow meandering movies that are under the guise of atmosphere or intellectualism.
Another thing that had me worried is a usually don’t like these multiple storyline crime dramas. Crash was cool, Pulp Fiction and Go made it work, but almost every other time they don’t work for me. I thought this was going to be one of those gimmicky movies were all the stories would intertwine and the characters would meet every once in a while, and those can be fun, but this looks like it’s going for the gold.
The best and worst thing I can say about this movie is that it’s basically 3 different movies in one that tell one narrative. A lot of the reasons that these multiple time line movies don’t work is because usually one is better or more engaging then the other and maybe one drags. Another problem is one might get too much attention and the other might be under developed. All 3 segments here are given equal development and time focused, I’m going to give each Segment it’s impression since it’s so fragmented, and also strangely congealed.
The First segment has Ryan Gosling realizing he has a son, and trying to be involved in his life. The reason this segment works is because we all know his character. It’s a good guy who can’t help but stay in trouble with the law, but has a heart of gold. Ryan plays it well with not too much attitude or “swagger”. It also works in that sort of predictable story told really well sort of way. You can pretty much tell how it’s going to play out, but what makes it good is the knife twisting as the tension ratchets up constantly. It also had me reassured because it’s very tight and moves just fast enough while giving enough development to make it work. This is where the writing, acting, direction, and score really come together to make a damn good short film and start of the movie. Excellent start, I almost advice turning the movie off at that point, because it peaks at that point.
Next is the Bradley Cooper as the cop. His segment starts after the Ryan Gosling segment and here is when the movie starts to lose it’s punch after a while, but it’s still hanging in there. Once again very predictable what’s going to happen, but it’s still got tension and recurring themes of consequence and choices. Acting good, direction still good. The problem is that while the first segment had an excellent solution and set up, here the solution is really weak, which takes the wind out of the momentum the movie had. Everything’s just a notch down, but I’m still hanging with it.
The Third Segment is where the movie turns into what I was afraid of. The tightness and focus is gone along with the tension. It’s just waiting for the big reveal. And this brings in a complaint with one of the actors the son of Bradley Cooper’s character. Now Bradley Cooper is the cop, and Ryan Gosling’s is the criminal , but for some reason Bradley Cooper’s son is a wigger. It’s still a good performance but it’s really weird and off putting at times. And once again the segment really just drops the ball on the ending.
Now the reason I really liked this film is that it is basically one really long story and they don’t use any narrative tricks or fancy editing to tell the story, it’s very traditional. Part of me thinks that maybe they should’ve used the segment with the sons as a frame story and then let the movie play out as a sort of mystery. But really that’s not the problem. The problem is that the story is just top heavy. They simply had a better beginning then the ending and the movie just continuously drops in quality. It’s not a significant drop, but you do notice. And even where it ends up isn’t even that bad it’s just a disappointment given the excellent start. Overall I’m glad I saw it, I wouldn’t rush out to go see it, but if it’s playing in your city check it out, or even better catch it on Redbox on a Lazy Sunday and you’ll enjoy it that much more.