Despite an ensemble cast of impossibly attractive people including Ryan Gosling, Eva Mendes, Bradley Cooper and a title that implies a sense of gentle longing like “The Place Beyond the Pines” does, this isn’t a movie you should be suggesting for your next Saturday date night. Unless of course the both of you are into violence, corruption, and an overall feeling of bleakness. “Drive”, for its moments of ultra violence at least had more scenes of happy romance between Gosling’s driver and Carey Mulligan’s waitress-mother, Irene. At a glance you could even say Gosling plays a similar character to the one here.
Ryan Gosling is Luke Glanton, a stunt bike rider for a traveling circus who doesn’t have a lot going on, until a return trip to a town he was in the previous year shows that a girl he met then, Romina (Mendes) had a baby. And it’s his. That little jolt makes Luke decide to stick around and try to be a father, having stared at the results of his own father not being around every morning in the mirror. With few options available for money, he chooses to take his dirt bike, a gun, and go rob banks which puts him at odds with the local corrupt police department, a fight which will carry over into the lives of kids on both sides of the struggle.
Everybody just wants to do better and every time they try something they lose a piece of themselves. The piece that gave them a reason to change in the first place. In so doing the good guys become bad guys, the bad guys try to be good guys, and the result is everyone is stuck wallowing in the middle ground together trying to untangle the messes they make of themselves and each other. It’s questionable whether or not anybody can ever really escape how much of our lives are built on the lives of others, and how close that pushes everyone together.
The problem is that this isn’t all this movie tries to say. In fact it takes the long way around to say that, with a powerful beginning and a somber end split apart by a middle that takes a little too long to get anywhere meaningful while being questionably relevant to the bigger picture the movie is trying to create. Y’know, I don’t really hate Bradley Cooper or his acting. Some people do, and to an extent it’s at least understandable as to why but I’ve never seen it like that. Especially in a movie like this where he gets the short middle of the stick and so much of this movie is devoted to him doing so much nothing. He comes in with a bang and leaves the same aura similar to “Limitless” but for all the in between time he’s been given all gets to do is sulk. It’s almost enough to give the movie whiplash for how hard it slams the brakes after Gosling roars the engine. Fortunately Dane Dehaan does a good enough job in a role similar to his character in “Chronicle” that the movie can pick up again. There are smaller themes present here and there but they only serve to muddle what could have been a near perfect simplicity and understanding, instead forcing one to design a flowchart in order to figure out what everything means when the characters and the meanings start changing.
It’s difficult to say whether or not the movie will have an effect on you but if you can connect with the theme of fatherhood which permeates the scattershot of ideas played with you’ll likely appreciate what this film has to offer. At worst each act of the movie can stand as its own separate film, which may be enough instead of the heavy experience of the entire thing. There’s something here for everyone but everything here isn’t for everybody.