Some movies are a bit like lava lamps. Colors! Shapes! They're moving! Excellent. And that's fine. Those movies are great. Think Avatar. Maybe the sort of wrongly-maligned Speed Racer. A flick where you can just kind of turn your brain off and enjoy a cool show is just as good as any other.
Some movies are not like that.
You want some colors and shapes? Sorry, holmes! Here's a drawn-out, 30-minute-long opening with no dialogue. Welcome to the hopeful Oscars, chum.
It's pretty safe to say that The Place Beyond the Pines falls into the latter category. A "moviegoer's movie," this is not. The Place Beyond the Pines is not super interested in your entertainment. The Place Beyond the Pines is not super interesting in makin' you wear a nice little smile.
First, it's important to know that this movie comes to you from Blue Valentine director Derek Cianfrance. Second, it's important to know that I'm going to spoil the shit out of this entire movie.
Third, it's important to know that this movie is only one-third Gosling. Seriously. He's out after about 20 minutes.
Then it's Brad Cooper's movie.
Then it's Brad Cooper's and Gos' kids' movie.
Look, I get what Cianfrance was going for. I get the triptych structure, and I get the pretty intense thematic exploration.
Really, this movie is well-executed, for the most part. It's mis-marketed, because how the fuck would you market this movie? Ray Liotta takes up one-third of the poster's billing real estate, and he's in the movie for about 10 minutes.
This isn't an easy movie to see, talk about, market, discuss, anything. But it's still one that deserves those things.
The thematic through-line that Cianfrance tackles is an ambitious one. Gosling's character leads us off with what could almost have functioned as a great film on its own, given a bit more fleshing-out. We step into the life of his stunt-motorcycle-riding character, and get to explore his earnest, yet utterly misguided attempts at providing for the son he didn't realize he even had.
That happens pretty much until it's over.
Then we hang out with Bradley Cooper for a bit. Having offed Gosling's character at the end of the first act, he wrestles with guilt and tries unsuccessfully to remain an honest cop on a force riddled with corruption.
Then that's over.
Fast forward fifteen years. Now we're hanging out with Gosling and Coop's kids. Now, we explore the ways in which each character shaped the direction his respective son wound up taking.
We see how Gosling's angry, sometimes violent love rubbed off on his erstwhile son, and we see how Cooper's beaten-back idealism chewed up and spat out his own kid.
Again, it's a movie that deserves to be seen. It deserves to be thought about and discussed when it's over.
It's a film that tackles complex subject matter, but one that ultimately trips and falls over its own alienating structure. Which is a shame, because I was kinda looking forward to a good Gosling movie.