Derek Cianfrance’s highly anticipated (at least by myself) film, The Place Beyond The Pines, reinforces Cianfrance’s preference for heavy dramas that allow the viewer to think, contemplate and eventually, walk out of the cinema with a slight headache and the need for a nap (thinking is hard).

The Place Beyond The Pines is clearly defined in three separate acts, that focus on Luke Glanton (Ryan Gosling), Avery Cross (Bradley Cooper) and their two sons 15 years later, respectively.

In the first act, we’re introduced to Luke, who is well-known for his daring and impressive stunts as a motorcyclist in a travelling fair.  While in town he is reunited with an ex-lover, Romina (Eva Mendes), and he soon learns that she has given birth to his son.  Despite the fact that he can’t support either of them, and that she now lives with her boyfriend, he moves to town to help raise his child.  However, when Luke realises that he cannot get by on minimum wage, and with a desperate need to both be a part of his son’s life and impress Romina, he turns to robbing banks, using his phenomenal skill and speed as a motorcyclist to get away every time.

Of course, this leads to pretty bad consequences.

In the second act, we focus on Avery, who is a cop that deals with Luke’s case.  Made out to be a hero, he feels uncomfortable by the corrupt cops that he is forced to work and rely on.  When he is confided in by a police officer friend, he realises that he has the ability to once again be the hero, as well as move his way up the corporate ladder.

In the third act, 15 years later, Avery and Luke’s sons become associated with one another during high school with terrible consequences (just putting it out there, this film has a fair few terrible consequences), each suffering from the effects of their father’s actions of the past.

So how did I feel about this film?   First it has to be said, this is a really long movie, almost 2 and a half hours.  While I’ve watched a fair few long films this year at the cinemas, this one seemed so much longer by comparison.  This may have been because it was so clearly marked out into three sections (each of which could have almost been their own film), or because the storyline and messages along with it were so heavy and, frankly, rather miserable, or perhaps because of the lulls in the story arch.  Perhaps all three?  Whatever it was, I felt like my brain had been kneaded for 2 and a half hours, which as a general rule, isn’t the ideal situation after going to the cinemas.

While from a purely cinematic perspective, I could appreciate that this was a high quality film.  Gosling, Cooper and Mendes are all competent actors that make their characters believable and even at times, likeable (as is the case with Luke, despite being a heavily tattooed motorcyclist for an affinity for attacking people with hammers). I found the cinematography at times rather beautiful and captivating to watch, particularly the scenes that showed the pine trees blurred and almost undulating in the breeze.

Although at times the storyline was slow, the underlying message of the consequences of past actions resonated throughout the film, with nuances from beginning to end, from Avery’s rash decision in the line of fire, to his absence as a father while his child was growing up.

However, even though, technically, I could see why this film was a success, I just didn’t like it. It was just such a hard film to watch.  That might sound weird but it’s so weighty, and deals again and again with issues that are depressing (yet not all that entertaining), that I just lost the patience for it.  While I thoroughly enjoyed the first act, I started to lose interest in the second, and it was almost completely gone by the third.

Furthermore, Avery’s son, AJ, was perhaps one of the most vile characters I’ve ever had to deal with.  He wasn’t a murderer, he didn’t particularly have much screen time, but there was something about him that just frustrated and angered me, but also bored me.  I didn’t care that he was lazy, or that he did drugs, or that he thought he was a hard-hitting tough guy who didn’t take anything from anyone, to me he was just a pain in the arse.  While I’m sure this was emphasised to show, once again, Avery’s actions and the eventual consequences, I also found it irritating that I had to sit through 40 minutes of his actions.

Overall, if you’re a serious film person, if you love Ryan Gosling, or you have more patience than me (likely) than I would suggest seeing The Place Beyond The Pines.  However, if you are after a film that doesn’t mean you have to think too deeply, or is a timeout from life, then I wouldn’t suggest this film for you.

Have you seen The Place Beyond The Pines?  What did you think?  Did you find it enjoyable?  Let me know!

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