The Place Beyond the Pines ★★★

There are a few plot points in "The Place Beyond the Pines" that left me wondering where on earth this movie was going. At least in the end, there ended up being a little more apparent method to the madness, but the lack of narrative focus is easily the movie's biggest weakness. While the opening and resolution do end up being connected, there is a large amount of time spent on plotlines that don't really reach closure or have much payoff although I suspect they were intended to be more meaningful.

Fortunately, the film is stocked with notable actors who are able to hold attention even in this wandering plot (Gosling, Cooper, DeHaan, Cohen, Mendelsohn, Byrne, Ali, Greenwood, Liotta, Yulin, etc.) In fact, there's a bit of foreshadowing here, with Ali putting in a small but solid performance as a father figure to a boy without a dad... an archetype he would reprise a few years later with far more public acclaim, in another movie that possesses three acts. The cinematography is decent (such as the opening tracking shot through the carnival, full of glowing lights of various colors) and later the landscapes, whether wide open fields or the deep brooding forest where danger always seems to lurk (or maybe brought there after lurking within the hearts of men).

But the movie can feel a bit confusing in its three acts, in terms of where it wants to go. Act I plays as a heist movie, Act II an internal affairs movie, and Act III an exploration of trying to find one's place in the world. Aside from some of the same characters appearing in each, each piece can feel like it is a movie onto itself waiting to be explored... but the focal point keeps shifting.

Overall the film is exploring the role of fathers, and how the sins of the fathers can impact their sons, although... well, aside from the most obvious bit (how patterns can cycle, and a father's absence can motivate someone as much as their presence -- the son needs something to react to), it's just not very clear exactly unique truths the movie would like to impart.