It’s an interesting idea to pack multiple interconnected storylines into one film. On the one hand, it gives us an opportunity to view the entire story from different angles, and from the perspective of different characters. Pulp Fiction and Sin City are good examples of this. Both films weave several narrative threads into complete tapestries, with characters crossing paths in different stories, sometimes leading to varied conclusions. On the other hand, it could give us so many characters and scenarios to juggle that we lose sight of the plot altogether. I guess it all boils down to the artistry of the director, and The Place Beyond The Pines‘ director hasn’t quite mastered the technique yet.
Pines is directed by Derek Cianfrance (try pronouncing that name), who pretty much only has one major film under his belt: 2010’s Blue Valentine, also starring Ryan Gosling. While I have not seen the film, I’ve heard that it provides us with a piercing insight to the life of a damaged couple. Pines, too, has a damaged couple. Two, in fact. And their failed relationships set the foundations for the events that are to happen. The film is broken up into three sub-stories. The first two set up the action, and the third is sort of an overly long epilogue that wraps up the consequences of having such miserable relationships. Sounds good on paper, but Cianfrance tries to do too much with everything.
The film is co-written by him, so I guess he had a large say in how the stories should unfold. There is actually nothing wrong with the way they unfold; bad things happen in the first two segments, and they pave the way for equally bad things that happen in the third. It’s as simple as that, but Cianfrance draws out his sequences on thin ice, so much so that they had a hard time keeping me awake and alert (yes, I dozed off a couple of times and had to re-watch the parts I missed). Maybe I was too exhausted, or maybe the movie was too tedious, or maybe it was a combination of both.
Anyway, here’s the plot: Luke Glanton (Ryan Gosling) is a stunt rider for a traveling fair. He has an old flame named Romina (Eva Mendes) and discovers that he has a baby with her. Wanting to be a good dad, he quits his job to stay with his “family”. Of course, he’s unable to find a new job, and has to resort to robbing banks as a means of getting cash. Robbing banks, as we all know, gets you nowhere, and Luke ends up in a massive pickle. Cut to the next story. We are now following Avery Cross (Bradley Cooper), a young and enthusiastic patrol cop who chases Luke around town before having a little accident. The accident makes him a local hero, and he uses this fame to boost him up the ranks to Assistant District Attorney. Cut to the next story. Avery is now running for office. His son, AJ (Emory Cohen), and Luke’s son, Jason (Dane DeHaan), are now 15 or 16 years old. They’re completely disconnected individuals, often finding themselves on the wrong side of the law. This thread — which I called the epilogue — focuses on AJ being a prick and Jason trying to discover himself.
There is only one thing that shines for me out of all this, and that’s the running theme of the results of bad parenting. Bad fathering, to be more precise. Both Luke and Avery have the desire to do good by their sons, but they keep falling short, whether it’s because they’re running from the law or because their career is more important. Gosling and Cooper do decently enough with their characters, as do Cohen and DeHaan, but no one really stands out. Everyone just seems to be happy where they are, playing their characters safely. And I want to point out that Gosling’s character reminds me too much of The Driver from Drive. Instead of being a fantastic stunt driver who moonlights as a getaway driver, he’s a fantastic stunt rider who moonlights — or daylights — as a fleeing criminal. Come on, give poor Gosling a chance to diversify. And no, covering his body with ugly tattoos doesn’t count.
Empire magazine says, in its review of Pines, that “You have to want to go on the journey with Cianfrance because he’s not one for rushing anywhere, preferring to hang out with his characters and let the story seep out of them”. I’m all for hanging, but I don’t think the story seeps out of anybody. It sort of drags itself from one scene to the next, and its characters are merely players, which is sad because it doesn’t make me want to go on the journey.
I reviewed Jack Reacher recently, another slow-moving film. Its director, Christopher McQuarrie, managed to punctuate its glacial pace with hard-hitting action sequences, and I felt that its narrative required time to unfold. Pines, however, suffers from a lack of such punctuation, and its story doesn’t need so much time to be told (it has three, for crying out loud). Tighten them up, engage the audience, and give us characters that we can genuinely care about, instead of trying to be artsy fartsy with a story that doesn’t even call for it. But hey, maybe I’m nitpicking; Stanley Kubrick was artsy fartsy with 2001: A Space Odyssey, and look at what’s become of that.
Best Moment | The police chase scene, just after Luke botches a bank robbery. It’s filmed almost like a video game, as we sit in the cop car and witness the action.
Worst Moment | Can’t say. But it involves two cops asking completely redundant and stupid questions as they approach… something.