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Blu-ray Review: ‘The Place Beyond the Pines’

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Written by Steve Geise

Before diving into this film, there’s one important thing to know: it’s really more like three films. Split into almost exact 45 minute stories, each arc is related to the others but also stands completely independently, featuring different stars and themes. If you were looking for Ryan Gosling to be acting opposite Bradley Cooper, or for a full film starring either one of them, you’ve come to the wrong place. Instead, what we get is a mini film starring Gosling, followed by Cooper’s turn, followed by two largely unknown young actors. The odd structure and overlong running time ensures that the final results will appeal to no one, leaving this one you watch for sporadic strong scenes but not overall impact.

Gosling once again channels his shadowy rebel without a clue work from Drive as a hapless motorcycle stunt driver in a travelling circus who finally finds some meaning in his life when he learns he’s the father of an ex-fling’s (Eva Mendes) baby boy. We don’t learn much about his backstory, but for whatever reason his paternal instinct kicks in so hard that he abandons his circus job and ultimately turns to a life of crime in a misguided attempt to provide for his child, even though his baby mama has moved on to a stable relationship with a man who is more than willing to take care of her. That life of crime eventually leads him into the orbit of Cooper’s character, a rookie cop still learning the ropes around his department and community.

The cop has his own problems, namely dirty cops in his department that attempt to indoctrinate him into their shady plans. Ray Liotta plays the chief bad cop with glowering menace, another brief but highly effective outing for him. The good cop has to manage avoiding temptation, figuring out how to clean up his department without getting killed, and leverage his efforts into a better career. See, he’s not just a cop, he has also passed the bar and has much higher aspirations that gradually come to fruition.

Fast forward fifteen years, and the good cop is still very much alive and now campaigning for Attorney General of his state. Unfortunately, his high schooler son is a drug-crazed loser who epitomizes the spoiled rich kid archetype. When the father moves his kid to a new high school in his town, the kid almost immediately strikes up a friendship with a quiet outcast simply because he realizes the loner is a stoner and can be his drug connection. Of course that’s not the only connection they have, so the obvious revelation of their relationship is more a waste of time than anything meaningful. Surprise, both kids have daddy issues, and the past lives of their daddies play out in unsurprising ways in their generation. This part of the film, which should have been the strongest, suffers from lack of star power, lack of meaningful scenes, and sputters out into an ending so arbitrary that even after over two hours of film you’ll be left saying “that’s it?”

The image quality of the film is surprisingly grainy for a current-day project, perhaps partially attributable to sporadic poor lighting but clearly noticeable on Blu-ray. The sound mix has decent channel separation which mostly comes into play during Gosling’s motorcycle action scenes. Bonus features include a very brief and self-congratulatory making of featurette, along with completely nonessential deleted scenes. The Blu-ray combo pack also includes a DVD and an UltraViolet digital download code.

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