Derek Cianfrance’s follow up to Blue Valentine is a familial epic that almost lives up to its premise.

Spanning two generations and running 140 minutes, The Place Beyond The Pines is an epic of indie proportions. Director Derek Cianfrance holds onto his indie values as he ups the ante but which never really seems as important or weighty as Cianfrance or the running time suggests. That said, there isn’t anything inherently wrong with the film, if anything it’s a blast to watch, yet after the credits roll it’s too easy to ask the question “why?” Or more to the point, “why does this matter and why should anyone care?” Sure, films are self-contained stories and sometimes, as in the case with Cianfrance so far, very abstract but the story should justify itself. In this case, Cianfrance gives his audience a heavy story about the decisions people make and how it reverberates down their blood lines but without ever really anchoring those decisions with meaning outside of themselves, instead moving from action to reaction. Ironically, the lengthy film never seems to dwell on the reflections it should which renders it, at times, a bit hollow.

The story chronicles the lives of two men, the tattoo-laden, motorcycle stuntman Luke Glanton (Ryan Gosling) and the buttoned up, do-gooder cop Avery (Bradley Cooper) and how their decisions affect their families and respective sons Jason (Dane DeHaan) and AJ (Emory Cohen). Taking place in chronological order, with some lengthy time shifts in between, it’s a story that is about actions and their reactions and disseminating any real plot will only spoil the experience. In essence, it’s three films strung together: that of Luke’s attempts to be with his son, Avery’s attempts to be an honest cop and, finally, the subsequent friendship of their two sons and the affects their choices have on them. The stories of Luke and Avery segue nice into each other but once Avery’s takes off and not-so-smoothly transitions into the story of Jason and AJ it’s hard to feel the deeper connections something like this necessitates.

Instead of a mosaic in the style of Robert Altman’s Shortcuts or Paul Thomas Anderson vehicle Magnolia, it has three distinct parts with four main characters. Yet, like those films, it’s unclear how all the parts fit together. Not on a logical standpoint like, say, Magnolia which intersects roughly connected characters but on an emotional one. It’s clear how the stories connect but, again, it’s unclear of why these stories are so important in the first place. Part of that could be that Cianfrance’s seriousness borders on pretension, allowing the film to breathe but never the characters. Absence of humor is fine, it’s done all the time, but some sense of humility on Cianfrance’s part would be welcome. And that’s what makes the film so frustrating. All of the pieces are there, from fantastic writing and directing to, most notably, incredible acting from Gosling, Cooper, DeHaan, Cohen, Eva Mendes, Rose Byrne, Ray Liotta, Ben Mendelsohn, the list continues, and yet some crucial element just seems to be missing. Still, despite it’s mild shortcomings, the film is a force of filmmaking, proving Cianfrance is only getting started.

Rating: 4 out of 5

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