A film that stars A-listers Ryan Gosling, Bradley Cooper and Eva Mendes is the kind of thing that understandably excites editors at Entertainment Weekly. It’s a credit to all three stars that they were willing to sacrifice a lot of salary to work in this small-budget indie film written and directed by Derek Cianfrance, who scored points with the art house theater crowd with his previous movie, “Blue Valentine.”
Unfortunately, “The Place Beyond the Pines,” is a turgid and choppy two-hour waste of everyone’s time.
Luke (Gosling) is a daredevil stunt motorcyclist who ekes out a living performing in a traveling circus. He gets a surprise visit from a former one-night stand, Romina (Mendes), after an evening show in Schenectady. He is still smitten by her even though she does not give him any indication that she would like to relive her time with him.
Undaunted, Luke does some sleuthing and discovers that Romina is a mom, and yes, he is the father of their son, Jason. Romina makes it clear to Luke that she is happy with the man in her life, Kofi (Mahershala Ali), and that she is not asking for any child support from him. While it would be easy for Luke to move on as he always has done in his life, he instead quits his itinerant job and moves to central New York State, where he can help raise his son.
He is given a job as a car mechanic by a newfound buddy, Robin (Ben Mendelsohn). When Luke gripes about how much it costs to be a good dad, Robin reveals that he did time for armed robbery. Luke is intrigued, and the two team up to knock over local banks. Mendelsohn gives this dreary film a welcomed touch of comic relief.
Predictably, Luke’s luck runs out and he is fatally shot after a wild car chase by Officer Avery Cross (Cooper). It’s the only scene that Gosling and Cooper, two of Hollywood’s biggest heartthrobs, share. Nonetheless, the pace finally picks up in the film’s second act. Avery is plagued by doubts about whether he had to mortally wound Luke even as he recovers from his own bullet wounds from the shootout.
Avery grew up in privilege as his dad (the always welcome Harris Yulin) is a respected judge in Troy. He could have gone onto law school but he joined the Schenectady PD as a way of rebelling. Avery has a bit of Serpico in him, as he doesn’t tolerate his corrupt colleagues, who are led by the very sleazy Detective Deluca (Ray Liotta in a role tailor-made for him that should please “Goodfellas” fans).
The film, which initially is set in the early 1980s, jumps 15 years into the future for its third and final act. There we see a polished Avery, who left the police force and fulfilled his dad’s wishes, running for New York State attorney general.
It’s at this point that the movie goes completely off the rails. Avery’s son, AJ (Emory Cohen), is a bad seed who is expelled from every school he attends and loves to get high. Against all plausibility, AJ is completely unaware of his dad’s days on the police force and winds up going to the same high school as Luke’s son, Jason (Dane DeHaan). All films have some unrealistic conceits, but this pushes the envelope too far.
The two become stoner friends who like to party, but their relationship quickly deteriorates for reasons that are unclear, though they have nothing to do with family history. Both characters mumble and are completely unlikable.
The film’s third act is supposed to tie everything together, but there is no payoff, just a lot of head-scratching about the lack of coherence and credibility in the plot.
Gosling is basically playing the same character that he did in a far better movie, 2011’s “Drive.” In that film, he was called on to be a man of few words, just as he is here. Perhaps if he was around for most of this film as he was in “Drive,” the results would have been better.
Cooper has a meatier part but writer/director Derek Cianfrance does not give him enough time in the crucial third act.
Mendes, long one of Hollywood’s most glamorous actresses, proves that she both can act and be credible in a role that is the antithesis of the beauty queen parts she normally gets.
Despite some good work on the part of the big-name leads, “The Place Beyond the Pines” is beyond salvaging.