the place beyond the pinesThe last time I forgot the name of the movie I was going to see as I was on my way to see it, it was Up in the Air, which actually turned out to be alright. Today, I would find out if lightning would strike twice as the words The Place Beyond The Pines completely exited my brain as I was asking for tickets and also while watching the opening credits.

Luke Glanton (Ryan Gosling) is a motorcycle stunt rider, touring the country from state fair to state fair. When the carnival pulls into Schenectady, NY, he meets up with Romina (Eva Mendes) with whom he’d shared a “special performance” the previous year. Bo and lehold, but Romina has had a kid and Luke is the father. Who’da thunk it? Determined to do the right thing by his kid, he quits his job with the carnival and stays in town, picking up a job with a small auto repair shop. It isn’t long, however, before money gets so tight that … em … Luke starts to rob banks. As you do. To be fair, it makes a bit more sense in the movie. During one robbery, he runs into Avery Cross (Bradley Cooper), a young cop whose life is about to take a dramatic turn.

Director Derek Cianfrance (Blue Valentine) isn’t exactly lacking in ambition as he steers the story across 15 years and three acts, with each transition shifting the focus onto another character. It’s an epic so influenced by Greek tragedy you can almost taste the tzatziki and hear the smashing plates. The ambition, while admirable, is a bit of a problem.

The first point of view shift, around the 45 minute mark, is so jarring that the soundtrack of the movie was briefly drowned out by everyone in the cinema shifting uncomfortably in their seat. Thrown in are a number of subplots and minor characters that, by the end, don’t amount to a whole lot. I spent the best part of the film’s 140 minute running time desperately looking for someone to root for. It was a search that would ultimately draw a blank because this world is filled with heavily flawed characters. Luke is a bank robber, Romina is a cheat, Avery is a liar and opportunist. The woman at the pharmacy is probably a vampire. Okay, maybe not.

To his credit, Cianfrance does his best to maintain a reasonable pace and works exceptionally well with the location. Coupled with Faith No More’s Mike Patton’s soundtrack, this generates a sense of brooding drama even without those pesky actors to get in the way.

Gosling is believable as he descends into crime but for reasons never explained his body is a canvas to around a gazllion tattoos which, along with his constant smoking, is a real distraction. Bradley Cooper’s oeuvre will permanently be blighted by the morally reprehensible Hangover trilogy but he manages to convince, particularly once his character is required to pile on the smarm and the charm. And poor Ray Liotta. As soon as he appears on screen in his brief couple of scenes, I can’t help but think of him as Henry towards the end of Goodfellas. The shine that was applied to his head did absolutely nothing to dissuade me of that.

Early on, the film has some interesting things to say about consequentialism and sins of the father, but overall, it’s a largely underwhelming experience that’s far too long, becomes far too predictable in its final movement and broadcasts its themes far too loudly and aggressively to build on the initial decent work.

So thanks, lighning. Thanks for nothing.