Saturday, April 13, 2013
A Tale of Three Movies: The Place Beyond the Pines
The Place Beyond the Pines is a movie told in three distinct acts, and that's what makes it so peculiar. Not that I'll spoil anything major, because it's best to go into this sprawling film with no idea of the plot or situations. We first meet Luke (Ryan Gosling) in a tracking shot as he walks to perform one of his death-defying motorcycle stunts. Covered in tattoos and showing his typical intense stare, one might think that this is Drive 2.0, with Gosling playing a man of few words but capable of ferocious violence. Pines is more complex than that, though. Luke strikes up a one-night-stand with Romina (Eva Mendes), and when his traveling carnival comes back into town a year later, he learns that he has an infant son. So he quits his job and becomes friends with Robin (Ben Mendelsohn, who was so great in last year's Killing Them Softly), a local mechanic who convinces Luke that a good way to provide for his new family would be to rob local banks, skillfully speeding away on his bike at 100 miles an hour. Gosling's performance is another great one. He's the spark in almost any film that he acts in, and even more so in Pines: he's the catalyst that keeps your eyes glued to the screen.
Soon enough, Luke--drawing attention from his bank robberies--crosses paths with rookie cop Avery Cross (Bradley Cooper), and it's here that the film shifts its focus to its second distinct act. Bradley Cooper does a fine job with Cross, a timid cop who realizes that he's the middle of mass corruption and double-crossing in the police department. Ray Liotta pops up with his usual thuggish and grimy officer of the law (that's not a detriment; this man is always entertaining). The Place Beyond the Pines was actually filmed a few months before Bradley Copper's Oscar-nominated performance in The Silver Linings Playbook, and it's not hard to see. He does an admirable job here, but he looks younger and has less confidence than in last year's wonderful film.
The Place Beyond the Pines is a big jumble: it has many aspects that brings goosebumps to your skin and a few that make you roll your eyes and check the time. It's a film that is 140 minutes long that at times feels too short and at times feels too long. It also begs the question of whether or not its chronological order of scenes wouldn't have been more interesting mixed up, ala Pulp Fiction or something of similar fashion. But still, the question arises again: can you fault Derek Cianfrance's over-ambitiousness in this film about fathers and sons and life's connections? The answer is No. The Place Beyond the Pines is a totally admirable attempt at an epic story, one with plenty of faults that are mild annoyances instead of major displeasure. (B+)