The Place Beyond the Pines starts off well, but rapidly goes downhill. It is preoccupied with fathers - Ryan Gosling lacked one, I think (although his diction means that I'm not entirely certain whether he asserts to the mother of his child that he didn't have a father around, and hence he is as he is, or that he did; I'm guessing he says that he didn't, despite the fact that what I hear is the opposite). The policeman he comes up against has an all too present controlling father and is unable to escape the destiny his father wants for him.
Section one tells Ryan Gosling's story. It is visually interesting, exciting in its plot and full of poignance. It includes Ben Mendelsohn, who is an ornament to any movie. Section two tells the policeman's story. It is still quite interesting, although less vivid, more cursory in its depiction of character and lacking Ben Mendelsohn, which leaves it inevitably at a disadvantage.
The events in section three take place some years after the events in sections one and two, The son of Ryan Gosling and the son of the policeman are now adolescents. They meet and their fates, like the fates of their fathers, become interwoven. Unfortunately, due to inexplicable casting, the son of the policeman appears to share no genetic make up with either his father or his mother and the son of Ryan Gosling seems mysteriously to have inherited nothing from his mother, despite the fact that one would assume her Latin heritage would be dominant and Ryan Gosling's recessive.
The film may be concerned with the way that sons are shaped and influenced by their fathers, but everything is undermined by the policeman's son's unlikely appearance, as well as his odd personality, for which we are given no real explanation. The boy is such an unattractive character it is very hard to understand why Ryan Gosling's son would want to have anything to do with him - and yet they fall in together.
The film looks good and it starts off enjoyably. Sadly, its conclusion is disappointing, although the final scene, in which Ryan Gosling's son disappears into an unknown future did make me wonder whether a kind of Easy Rider type sequel devoted to his character mightn't be quite fun. On the other hand, it seemed to undermine the one really strong impression the film had built up until then - that in America, if you are urban and born without advantage, you will remain poor, urban and disadvantaged. The image we are left with instead is that it is still possible to head off into the West and find a new life on some distant unspecified frontier.