The Place Beyond The Pines (2012)

Verdict: unbearably rubbish. 

I watched this film recently against my better judgement, on a recommendation. The words “redemption” and “character-driven”, and “pleasantly surprised” were used, I believe.

So why was this film rubbish? For starters, the storyline went on way too long, and made no sense. So Ryan Gosling’s a stunt rider who suddenly becomes really obsessed with his son and starts robbing banks and ends up nearly beating a guy to death. This guy is mentally unhinged, a really nasty piece of work. If he was fat and ugly then he would have no sympathy from the audience at all  – but oh, it’s okay to treat other people like that, because he’s good-looking and can ride a motorbike.

And the whole robbing banks storyline – that was so needless and pointless. The excuse for this terrible storyline seems to be that Ryan Gosling needs to provide for his son’s future, yet the son seems to be doing just fine without him – he has a mum and a dad and a house. It’s not like he’s living in abject poverty. There’s no reason for Ryan to quit his job and start robbing banks in the first place. And even if he did genuinely think that he needed to give his son some money, why didn’t he go and join an oil rig or something, and send money home to his family that way? Why did he instantly think about robbing banks? So stupid. How am I meant to respect a character who makes such a poor, lazy decision?

And then Eva Mendes jumping into bed with him – why did she do that? She’s with the other guy. What the heck is her character doing? I had zero respect for her too. She served no purpose other than eye candy. And she can’t act either. Neither can Ryan Gosling, who has all the emotional range of a broom. The scene where he cried in the church – he did that without moving a muscle. No emotion at all. Impressive. Like watching Spock cry.

Things did get interesting when Bradley Cooper (who can actually act) showed up and shot Ryan Gosling – it would have been good to explore just the storyline of the psychological consequences and the strain it put on his marriage and why he and his wife split up… but no, the writers chose to ditch this storyline and focus on a couple of bratty kids. 

Okay, Bradley Cooper’s son is an idiot, but oh, the coincidence of transferring schools and ending up at the exact same high school as Ryan Gosling’s son (who looks quite dark and Hispanic as a baby, but completely white as a teenager), and sitting down at exactly the same table as him. Surely if Bradley Cooper was really upset about shooting Ryan Gosling, he would have followed the progress of the son, and known what high school he went to?

Anyway. So Ryan Gosling’s son finds out about his dad’s identity, but then the jump to making him into some kind of saint seems a little quick. Rash. And forced. Why is the son so quick to turn on his mum, and declare vengeance on Bradley Cooper? Didn’t he read the bit about his dad taking people hostage? Is this kid so thick that he can’t make a proper evaluation of the information? And his mum – why doesn’t Eva Mendes sit down and have a proper chat with him, instead of just looking upset all the time?

And so then he takes Bradley Cooper out into the woods and Bradley Cooper starts crying. His tears seem completely out of the blue, unrealistic, even a little embarrassing. The film directors can’t just jump forward 15 years in time and expect the audience to stay with them – there was no real evidence that Bradley Cooper was still repentant and harbouring guilt after all this time. It would have been better for the directors to take us through those 15 years, for us to walk alongside Bradey Cooper, seeing how the shooting affected him, his marriage, his relationship with his own kid, maybe have him keeping tabs on Ryan Gosling’s son… but no, the film makers went for the lazy option and just hit the fast forward button – and then expect the audience to be moved by Bradley Cooper crying.

And so then Bradley Cooper apologies, and then what, Ryan Gosling’s son just accepts his apology? He doesn’t want to ask anything else? He just runs off? What a wasted opportunity.

And then what, the snotty brat decides to head west on a motorbike? SERIOUSLY?? Is this meant to be coming a full circle or something?, cause this wasn’t, it’s just stupid. Suddenly we’re meant to believe that a kid who has never touched a motorbike or shown any inclination towards them suddenly wants to ride off into the sunset? Completely disregarding his parents who have brought him up and love him? That is really bratty behaviour, it’s not cool, it’s not clever, it’s just stupid.

Maybe all the characters had really low IQs, and that’s why they all behaved in such cliched ways. It was like they were a herd of cattle, coralled into a storyline without the ability to show any sort of intelligent decision making along the way.

The whole problem with this film was that nothing was followed up or fleshed out or explored. It just seemed really sketchy, as if deep sorrowful gazes and people crying are meant to be a substitute for good dialogue and exposition. I know I’ve gone on about the audience not being spoon fed, but there is room for an actual story to be told in the old-fashioned way, and not just relying on your cast to try and sell the story for you. It was like the film makers thought, “Oh cool we’ve got some A list actors, they’ll carry the film along, and hopefully no one will realise that the actual storyline behind this is pretty rubbish and full of plot holes. We’ll distract them with pretty faces and a pretentious soundtrack.”

Anyway. So bad. A film pretending to be deep (note: just because deep emotions are being shown on screen, this doesn’t necessarily make it a deep film) and meaningful and “hip” (because the actors mumble their lines and speak over each other), but actually it was pretty rubbish. The only intelligent thing about it was the song by Bon Iver at the end.

And even more depressingly, the majority of reviews seem to think this film is good. It isn’t. It’s like when you eat 30p Tesco value chocolate your whole life. You may think this is quality chocolate, but that’s because you haven’t eaten Cadbury’s or Lindor chocolate. In the same vein, anyone who thinks this film is good has obviously been living off a diet of equally poor films such as ‘The Hunger Games’ and ‘Avatar’.

Here is my suggestion – if you think this film is “an epic example of a morality tale” as one reviewer put it, then read ‘Lord Jim’ by Joseph Conrad or watch ‘Munich’ or ‘The Kite Runner’. All examples of intelligent morality tales that will make this film pale into comparison and expose it for the Value Version that it is.

5 thoughts on “The Place Beyond The Pines (2012)

  1. Shimky

    Naomi, that is a well-written, strongly-expressed opinion on TPBTP. See, I can’t even be bothered to write the title out fully; I’d make an excellent value version screenwriter!

    I don’t disagree with any of your points on the film. But I do disagree with your opinion that Cooper is a better actor than Gosling or that Mendes can’t act.

    Your review is obviously a very personal one. You are looking for certain things from this movie and they are not provided to you.

    I enjoyed the film for what it is: an action thriller with a bit of inconsequential drama thrown in.

    I think your viewpoint is as valid as mine because you are critiquing the film on what the director/writer promised. I am sure they thought they’d made a deep and meaningful masterpiece. It is, of course, nothing of the sort.

    But rather that completely tear the film apart, I look for the parts I can enjoy and walk away with; the rest I try to shrug my shoulders at. I think that is a much more positive approach than being left feeling that watching it was a complete waste of my time. And it wasn’t: there were elements I thoroughly enjoyed.

    I wonder whether the whole premise of your site, please don’t be rubbish, is a rather negative one. Rather than looking for the good in films, you seem to have set some very high standards against which you critique films. Your standards are, of course, valid. But, as we both know, there are many more bad films than good films, so this approach sets you up for a lot of disappointment.

    How would it be, if your philosophy was please be good rather than please don’t be rubbish? Perhaps you would get more enjoyment out material that didn’t live up to your expectations because you would be concentrating on the good rather than the bad? That seems to me a much healthier philosophy for all things in life.

    1. Shimky


      For a really really bad film, watch American Hustle! It leaves me with the same sentiments you have for The Place Beyond The Pines: how could anyone like this rubbish!

      1. Naomi Post author

        Thanks for being gracious and taking the time to read my post and reply, I really appreciate it. Especially after my rather hit-and-run comment!
        I do totally agree with what you’re saying; we need to affirm the good that we see around us, and to be actively looking for it.

        At the same time though, how can we know what “good” is unless we have some sort of standard to measure it by? I do have very high standards – based on well-written, well-directed films and books – and then these become the yardstick by which to measure everything else. If we only “affirm the good” and fail to suggest improvements, then ultimately all the standards drop, ‘mediocre’ becomes the new ‘good’, and there’s nothing to aim for.

        I suppose the reason why I get so wound up is that these directors and writers could do better because they HAVE done better.
        It’s like in high school – if a pupil is capable of producing A-plus material, but then starts to turn in D-minus papers, then of course the teacher isn’t going to say “Well, there were some flashes of greatness in there amidst all the dross, so well done for trying”. The teacher is going to say to the pupil – “What are you playing at? You’re capable of a way higher standard than this. Stop messing around.”
        So James Cameron, Stephen King, Peter Jackson – they’ve already proved they can produce brilliant pieces of work. So the fact that they produce such utter drivel means that either they’re getting lazy, or they are just doing it for the money. I think often newspaper and TV reviewers capitulate to them and tell them they’ve done a great job, but the truth is, they haven’t.
        I guess that’s part of why I review stuff – to expose their poor attempts and point out why they should have done better. What they could do better. Why they are squandering their potential. Etc.

        It’s interesting that you said American Hustle is a bad film. I haven’t watched it, but it got nominated for an Oscar… which kind of proves my point in a way. If we only praise the good in films, then how do we know what’s rubbish? What is the criteria? It’s obviously not the Oscars… so what is it?

  2. Shimky

    Hi again, Naomi. There are degrees of goodness and badness in everything we consume. When we address a particular subject, we should include both. That’s what I like about the star review system used by many film review sites and magazines. You can easily distinguish between a masterpiece, an okay film, and something you should avoid like the plague. Yet, of course, taste is subjective.

    For me, the best film I have seen in my life so far is Amélie (2001). It touches me like no other film for its subtleness, non-clichéd romanticism, humour and sweetness. It seems to fit perfectly with what my soul yearns.

    There are sure to be many other people in this world who’s favourite film is also Amélie – but not necessarily for the same reasons as my own. And there are sure to be billions of people in this world who’s favourite is not Amélie. Are they wrong? Are they even more wrong if their favourite film happens to be Battlefield Earth (2000)?

    Like I said before – and as we all know – taste is subjective. I do try not to deride those who have monumentally different tastes to my own – but I often fail. Many of us human being things have that bad piece of DNA which makes us think we are somehow better than everyone else. I guess this remains in us from our ancestors’ survival genes. Whatever the reason, it is an ugly trait. It is important to try to suppress this trait whilst at the same time giving our personal views on a subject.

    Art is subjectively extremely complex. What one person thinks is utter rubbish, another person can label a masterpiece. The general consensus in the film world – from my viewpoint – doesn’t seem too flawed. Critiques tend to agree on which films are the masterpieces, which are the dross, and then they argue about those in-between.

    Those in-between films – amounting probably to almost all feature films ever commercially released – are a disparate bunch. You described in your article your disgust at The Place Beyond The Pines (2012). You’ve noted that your overall anger comes from the knowledge that those involved could have produced a much better, more satisfying film with just a little more effort.

    This point brings me to something that’s been niggling me for a few years now. And I think it somehow ties in with everything I’ve tried to say here. With some Hollywood films these days I get the distinct impression that they are purposely dumbed-down to suit general audiences. From where I stand, the general public has pretty bad taste. Just go and look at the iMDB ratings for a selection of films in that ‘in-between’ category I mentioned earlier. The Place Beyond The Pines is a good example of this, perhaps. It leaves us know-it-alls smirking at its inadequacies. But it leaves a lot of people with a very satisfied feeling that they’ve just seen an exciting and complex epic and they managed to understand it all. (I know that’s an incredibly pompous declaration but that’s how I see it.)

    Now the big question is: who drives box-office sales and DVD/Blu-ray sales? Is it the film buff know-it-alls… or is it the rest of the population, the more easily entertained, perhaps less educated people out there? It’s got to be the latter, doesn’t it.

    As film buffs, do we assume that all writers and directors try their absolute best with each new film to create a masterpiece; to do the best they can? I am sure in indie cinema that this is the case. But in mainstream Hollywood?

    I am sure those running the major Hollywood studios – Columbia , Warner Bros., Walt Disney, Universal, 20th Century Fox, Paramount – worked out a long time ago that mainstream entertainment sells the best. Only a masterpiece will sell better due to the longevity of sales. But I’m sure they see it as a lot less risky to focus on making mainstream successes rather than trying to hit the masterpiece jackpot.

    So people like you are needed, Naomi. Like you said, to try and stop ‘mediocre’ becoming the new ‘good’. And you are in good company with many other like-minded souls.

    I will continue to focus only on the good in my reviews. I only post films I think are worthwhile seeing but inevitably not everyone will agree with my choices. I think The Place Beyond The Pines is a good semi-action thriller – nothing more – but it certainly entertained me enough to recommend it. And, to be honest, there are days when I’m not in the mood for a glass of wine and a La Dolce Vita (1960) and I’d rather relax with a beer and watch something that requires less concentration.

    What do you think?

  3. Naomi Post author

    Hello there.
    Yes films are very subjective… The amount of times I have had the following conversation:
    “That was rubbish.”
    Other person: “But I liked it.”
    “Yes but it was rubbish.”
    “Yes but I still liked it.”

    So yes of course it is about people’s personal tastes, and different films can resonate with different people at different times and for different reasons…at the same time though, it just seems very wrong that the movie industry earns billions churning out poor-quality films for the masses whilst there is still such poverty, famine and third world debt… Another debate for another day, perhaps.

    Anyway. For the record, I think the film Amelie is perfect 🙂


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