Friday, April 19, 2013

Modern Epic: The Place Beyond the Pines

The Place Beyond the Pines, directed by Derek Cianfrance, unfolds like an epic novel, Dickensian in its scope, its twists of fate, and its connections between characters from various social statuses, as it explores the bond between fathers and sons over a period of seventeen years and examines choices and consequences, honesty and dishonesty, and vengeance and acceptance. Set in Schenectady, New York, the film starts with the poignant portrayal of Luke Glanton (Ryan Gosling), a wayward loser who does motorcycle stunts for a traveling carnival. When Luke, his arms covered with tattoos, his T-shirts full of holes, discovers that he has an infant son, he is spurred to act the father to the boy and to provide for the mother, Romina (Eva Mendes), but temptation leads him to make money by robbing banks, relying on his supreme confidence as a skillful motorcyclist for his getaways – the film’s most thrilling moments. But the pleasure I derived from viewing this film came from its many surprising layers and its shifting points of view, so I won’t ruin it for you by saying anything more about the plot.

Suffice it to say that this engrossing saga is well worth seeing. The cinematography closes in on the details of an ice cream joint and pulls long for vistas showing the piney ridges beyond the town - the place beyond the pines. I love the shot that follows Luke through the glitzy activity of the carnival. I also like the shot of Luke, framed by the colorful lights of the ferris wheel, after he parts with Romina in Schenectady; the same lights framing him when he is in a different town. Meanwhile, skillful camera angles and sharp editing inject the motorcycle sequences with tense excitement. The musical score, laced with forebodingly deep notes that call to mind the ominous scores of Bernard Herrmann, intensifies the drama, while the acting is excellent across the board.

Reminiscent of Marlon Brando when he mumbles shyly to Romina, Robert de Niro when he lashes out in anger, Steve McQueen when he jumps on his motorcycle and rides like hell, Gosling is engaging as the cool loser Luke Glanton (great name for an outlaw!) who tries to transform himself into a responsible father by ironically robbing banks. Eva Mendes, as Luke’s former lover, and Bradley Cooper, as a policeman, are both excellent. As Robin, Luke’s partner in crime, Ben Mendelsohn does another memorable take on the kind of greasy low-life he has played in Animal Kingdom and Killing Them Softly. Finally, Dane DeHaan is touching and believable as Luke’s adolescent son. Although the film’s final third slows down and wanders somewhat into predictable melodrama, The Place Beyond the Pines is the most enjoyable epic I’ve seen since . . . since . . . uh, since, well, I can’t remember the last epic I saw. Epics are a dying genre, but hopefully the solid structure and the stimulating vibrancy of this well-made saga will inspire other ventures as ambitious and satisfying as this one.

(Also - the dramatic poster is my favorite poster of the year so far.)


Steve's Blog said...

I am in complete agreement here. Thank you for pointing out the great cinematography and compositions in this very satisfying film. I thoroughly enjoyed absorbing every detail of the film, admiring its deliberate pace which respects the audience enough to take it all in and allow the ambitious, classical themes to take shape.

While a very different film, the narrative structure of Pines recalled The Deer Hunter with its three separate acts, taking on three separate personalities, while maintaining the main storyline. Both films have the courage to allow the stories to unfold according their own cinematic rules.

Hokahey said...

Steve, thanks so much for this comment. And I'm glad you loved it as much as I did. I like your referencing The Deer Hunter, a film I admire. Like Pines it has the same layered structure and it also captures the atmosphere of small-town blue-collar life so well. It's very satisfying to enjoy the release of an epic like Pines when the industry is poised to release an onslaught of CGI epics of the more vapid kind.

Jason Bellamy said...

Caught this today, and I second your comments.

I'm torn on the latter third or so (15 Years Later). It's all done well in and of itself, but it just isn't as compelling as what came before it, and so the coincidences take too much of our focus.

Good movie.

Hokahey said...

Jason, thanks. Yes, the first two thirds are more dramatic, and the first third is spectacular and distinctly original - whereas the police corruption episode is something we've seen before. As for the final act, I like how, in Dickensian style, the character of Robin figures back into the story in order to provide the son with knowledge of his father. Though, refresh my memory. What leads the boy to look up Robin?

Jason Bellamy said...

I like Robin's reentry.

And yet ... what I didn't like was the implication that the kid learned things about his dad from the newspapers that Robin saved in his garage ... the same newspapers, you'd think, that the kid read online the night before that sent him to Robin in the first place (thus answering your question).


It's silly to think that the kid found out a fairly trivial detail (that his father worked for Robin) without learning about a major detail along the way (the significance/identity of Cooper's character). I mean, as we see in the first half of the movie, Cooper's character gets a considerable amount of news attention, and he remains a public figure. Talk about a guy who would be easily found on Google.

Hokahey said...

I agree with you that it's a stretch of the imagination that the kid is clueless about the significance and identity of Cooper's character. There are a number of stretches in the film - for example, you'd think the police would have connected Luke with the place where he works - especially since Robin fixes cars and motorcycles - but the film's drama works successfully and the loopholes aren't glaring. (For example, why haven't the uncorrupted police/FBI searched Romina's place already?)