When Handsome Luke (Ryan Gosling), a nomadic drifter/circus performer arrives in town, he is visited by his old girlfriend Romina (Eva Mendes) who he hasn't seen in over a year when he last passed through. After discovering that he has a baby with Romina, he decides to stay in town and be the father he never had when he was a boy, which proves difficult for a man with such limited choices of employment.
Feeling threatened by Romina's live-in boyfriend, Luke decides to provide for his child the only way he knows how, by riding his motorcycle. After teaming up with a local bank robber, Luke begins a crime spree that results in him being pursued by rookie police officer Avery Cross (Bradley Cooper) where each man's destiny becomes eternally bound to one another through the future generation of their very own children.
Watching The Place Beyond the Pines and trying to appreciate it for everything it tries to be is a daunting task. Not so much because it fails at what it attempts to do, but quite the opposite. It gets so darn close to nailing its unique approach to depicting this generational story of fathers and the everlasting impact their lives have on their offspring that it becomes almost frustrating. You can see what it was wants to be so badly, that it's narrow miss is almost heartbreaking at times. So what went wrong exactly?
It has the talent to back up its epic ambitions, with an impressive cast that includes current Hollywood pretty boys Ryan Gosling and Bradley Cooper who both do some really great understated work here. The women sadly get the short end of the stick, especially a very underutilized Rose Byrne, but her and Eva Mendes still turn in solid supporting work. Dane Dehaan, who doesn't show up until the film's last act, basically appears to be reprising his role from Chronicle which makes sense when you realize just how darn good he was in that.
The scope of the film is ambitious to say the least, which isn't really a bad thing, but the problem here is that the unusual structure of the film and Cianfrance's inability to properly convey to the audience where this story is going undermines much of what the film is trying to accomplish. Case in point, when we are first introduced to Luke and Romina, they are the focal point of the film for nearly the entire first third of the narrative. We follow Luke as he tries to helplessly to mend his family back together and we begin to get invested in his plight.
Then suddenly we switch perspectives and begin following Avery around who up until the exact moment we leave Luke behind is the first time we ever see him. Where the confusion begins to set in is that the transition is entirely out of left field. While it makes sense within the confines of the story, it does little to nothing to help the audience understand "why" we no longer see what is happening with Luke and Romina's story. It is the equivalent of changing channels to a different television show, it's that sudden.
It's only later when we meet Avery's son years down the road that we begin to put together the pieces of what Luke and Romina's story meant in the grand scheme of things. It is without a doubt a very interesting way to tell a familiar story about cops and robbers, but it ultimately feels very inconsequential. Once you figure everything out, the film feels as though it is building to something truly amazing, but it falls flat and presents us with an open ended conclusion where it feels as almost nothing has been resolved as all the interested parties go their separate ways.
There are moments of brilliance sprinkled all throughout the film, Luke's bank robberies have a very gritty and clumsy feel to them that makes them feel all too real, Avery's run-in with a group of crooked police officers run by Ray Liotta provides the only real tension in the entire film and once again succeeds at feeling real with how it is resolved and the most of the scenes dealing with their children are successful at conveying how the sins of the father directly impact and influence their children.
But taken as a whole, it is structured poorly and it's grander story arc doesn't come together in any real satisfying way. This is a film to be viewed for it's talented cast and its ambitious nature. Despite its failings, it is nevertheless impossible not to appreciate it for what it was trying to be. This was a valiant effort at creating something that wanted so much to be something truly remarkable and transcending but ended up being something truly inconsequential instead.
After an exhaustive and overly obtuse set up, this film about fathers and sons blossoms and shows its true colors only to be saddled with an underwhelming conclusion to a story that deserved a more impactful finale. From the cast to the direction, the film is a constant joy to watch and take in, unfortunately it isn't able bring itself together to offer anything more than a passing curiosity that will stick around in your subconcious for a while only because it was so close to meeting its full potential.