Saturday, 1 June 2013

The Place Beyond the Pines

The Place Beyond the Pines. Even the title evokes feelings of anticipation in me. Which is why I wanted to see it at the theatre in spite of so-so (though generally positive) reviews. I missed the first run, but the Derek Cianfrance film hit Winnipeg’s only cheap theatre last night and I rushed out at the first opportunity. I forgot how uncomfortable old theatre seats can be. Ouch!

I had no idea what kind of film this was, which was good, but I knew it was an independent film starring Ryan Gosling and Bradley Cooper and that Cianfrance’s last film was Blue Valentine, a raw, dark, honest and original Gosling film with lots of handheld camera work. I was anticipating more of the same, especially with that haunting title. I got it. This is a good thing.

The Place Beyond the Pines is even rawer, darker, moodier, more original and more uncomfortable than Blue Valentine. It sustains a constant level of intensity and David-Lynch-like (or maybe Stephen-King-like) suspense that fits perfectly with its title (at least as I imagined the title). While there is handheld camera work throughout, it is used sporadically and to excellent effect (i.e. it heightens the intensity and discomfort in a very effective way), which is rare indeed.

The Place Beyond the Pines is an epic film about fathers and sons. It’s long, it covers a period of about sixteen years and it tells three distinct stories (involving the same characters). Unfortunately, I can only tell you the first story because to tell you the other two would give away the ending of that first story, which I will not do. In the first story, Gosling plays Luke, a drifter whose greatest skill is motorcycle-riding, which he does for a travelling carnival. When the carnival returns for its annual visit to Schenectady, New York, Luke sees an old girlfriend (Romina, played by Eva Mendes) and discovers he has a baby son. Thinking back to his own fatherless childhood, Luke quits the carnival and stays in town to look after his son. But Romina has another man in her life and doesn’t see a future with Luke ending well. Good call. Luke is persuaded by a friend to start robbing banks to provide for his son and things go downhill from there.

Do not assume from this description that The Place Beyond the Pines is an epic tragedy. It is dark and it is tragic but there is much more here, especially as we get into the story of Avery Cross (Cooper), a Schenectady police officer. But as I said, I will not reveal more of the story at this time and therefore cannot even mention, let alone discuss (from a theological standpoint), some of the film’s most thought-provoking features. I will remind you that this is an indie film and that a number of unexpected things happen in the film (unexpected from a Hollywood perspective). This is always a good thing, regardless of how I feel about the twists and turns of the story. I will also mention that I found the third story to be both the most frustrating (parts of it were poorly conceived) and the most intriguing (I loved parts of it).

I am not a Bradley Cooper fan (at least not yet), so his acting generally fails to impress me, but he does well enough here. Gosling is outstanding as always and the rest of the cast perform admirably. The music and cinematography are a key part of the film’s aura and are excellent. Cianfrance, the writer and director, is a very talented filmmaker. He makes me very uncomfortable (or was that the cheap theatre seat), but that means I am fully engaged, which is what all films should strive for. A solid ***+. My mug is up.

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