EVEN though it fails to deliver, right from the start, this film holds the promise of a hell of a ride, beginning with a continuous opening shot that tracks a sinewy, tattooed Ryan Gosling pulling on his jacket, exiting his trailer home, mounting a bike and leading a team of stunt drivers looping inside a small metal cage.
The Place Beyond The Pines (15)
Director: Derek Cianfrance
Running time: 140 minutes
This is Luke, a fairground motorcycle rider. But also: this is Ryan Gosling, riding in a globe where other motorbikes whizz past with inches to spare. Maybe it is clever sleight of hand, but that is the finest curve I’ve seen this year.
Gosling is an odd fish. Some are wildly enthusiastic about him but I’ve found some of his characters a little too cool for school, enigmatic tropes determined to make us admire every tiny over-processed gesture. And yet I liked him very much in The Place Beyond The Pines, perhaps because he’s not around for the entire movie: admiring a soulful Gosling can get tiring after a while.
Still, the first third of the film rests with him, and it’s the best part, not just because Gosling is compelling but because there’s a sense that anything could happen. Luke discovers that a brief fling with local girl Romina (Eva Mendes) has produced a son. Suddenly, he has a reason to stay in one place, settle down and make a decent fist of fatherhood. “My dad was never around,” he says “and look how I turned out,” he explains.
Unfortunately Romina now has a boyfriend, and they are raising Luke’s son together, while Luke struggles to make a decent wage after he leaves the fairground. Then he discovers that there are ways of making indecent money, very fast.
The storylines become more conventional after the first act, even though Bradley Cooper gives a nicely ambivalent performance as Avery, a young police officer whose life is changed by a charged encounter with Luke. The two men are around the same age, and both have young sons, but when the script set up a lengthy subplot about the ethical choices to be made in exposing entrenched police corruption, I wasn’t so much gripped as wondering which Al Pacino film it was going to resemble most closely. Serpico? Sea Of Love? Or even, fingers crossed, Insomnia.
Years later the teenage sons of Luke and Avery also cross, and it wouldn’t be fair to say too much more than that – although by this point, I started to think that this is the kind of Greek tragedy that Steve McQueen could have appeared in.
Derek Cianfrance’s first film, Blue Valentine, was an actor’s delight: a character-based feature about the rise and fall of the relationship full of freighted looks, small heartbreaks and missed signals. This time it’s about men and the traits they advertently and inadvertently pass on to the next generation. You can’t say Cianfrance lacks ambition and reach, but you start to wonder if the writer-director lost interest in his own project, or someone told him to hustle his bustle and forced him to race to the finishing point during the script stage. It certainly feels like a film where all the care and effort has been poured into the first few chapters. And it doesn’t help that Avery’s son turns out to be the most punchable little horror since The Magnificent Ambersons’ George.
• On general release from Friday. See Spectrum for Ryan Gosling interview