I read somewhere that Ryan O’Neal only had 354 words of dialogue in Walter Hill’s underrated The Driver (1978). I would bet Ryan Gosling has even fewer words in The Place Beyond The Pines. Of course, O’Neal was in his movie from start to finish, whereas Gosling is only in the first one-third of his.
And that was my initial problem while watching this film. It seemed like three distinctly different movies carelessly strung together because the producers and director Derek Cianfrance couldn’t agree on a coherent script. The operative words here are “initial” and “seemed”. In fact, when it was all over and the credits were rolling by, I realized The Place Beyond The Pines was a wildly ambitious, mostly successful attempt at transcending typical Hollywood boundaries. I had just watched a multigenerational epic which examined the complex relationship between fathers and sons in a most original way.
Gosling, a stunt motorcycle rider in a second-rate carnival, has had a fling with Eva Mendes while the show is on a stop in Schenectady, New York. A year passes, which is skillfully shown by Cianfrance in a brief, lyrical sequence, and when Gosling returns to Schenectady (the Indian name for which, by the way, is the title of the movie), he learns Mendes has given birth to his son and is now living with another man. He then decides to quit the carnival and stay in town to be part of his son’s life. Mendes and her new lover, however, have other ideas. The plot is now jumpstarted.
Ben Mendelsohn scores big in a supporting role as a hermit-like auto mechanic, as does Emory Cohen as a wiseass high school kid looking for trouble, while Ray Liotta appears in a small role and steals every scene he’s in. But the real stars of this film are the laconic Gosling, all tattoos and dangling cigarettes, and Bradley Cooper as a cop who’s maybe a little too political for his own good. Gosling’s stunning presence is undeniable, eliminating the need for a lot of dialogue. His face, his tattoos, his hair, his wardrobe, the way he moves on camera … they say more about him and about what he’s feeling than any words written on a manuscript page.
But back to the three-films-in-one notion. The transitions between the segments could have been done with a little more care. As it is, the viewer is jolted from one segment to the next, and it’s not comfortable. Having said that, though, it wouldn’t surprise me if this film got some buzz at Oscar time.
Recommendation: Make an effort to see this one before it leaves your local theater.