Thursday, May 9, 2013

The Place Beyond the Pines Review

The Place Beyond the Pines is an incredibly fascinating, meandering, and long-winded film that causes one to ponder...the impact of our actions today on our children in the future.  To ponder where the thin red line between blatant revenge and that abstract idea of justice lies. To ponder what justice truly entails.  Directed by Derek Cianfrance, Pines is a film that follows two families across almost two decades and how their actions of the past come back to haunt them in the future.

Luke (Ryan Gosling, as stoic as ever) is a tattoo-laden carnie who specializes in dirt bike/motorcycle riding and stunts.  Early in the film he discovers that he has an infant child with an old fling of his, Romina (Eva Mendes).  He quits his carnival job and takes work from a fledgling auto mechanic, Robin (Ben Mendelsohn). Soon the two turn to bank robberies to fill their pockets, with Luke using his new-found funds to help support the child he never knew he had.  This is of course causes friction between Luke, Romina, and her new boyfriend, Kofi.  A poorly-planned heist causes Luke's life to violently collide with police officer Avery's (Bradley Cooper).  At this point the narrative takes an unexpected turn - a turn that I shan't say anything more about.  Where the story goes from here is incredibly fascinating and was completely engrossing to watch unfold.  Then a second shift happens and the story becomes something else entirely.  Part of the magic of Pines is seeing these transitions play out unexpectedly; I had no idea where the story was going until it actually happened.

The themes at play revolve around justice and revenge.  Cooper's Avery makes a speech halfway through the film about what justice really means and that concept applies to the film as a whole.  Do money and gifts make up for being an absentee father?  Does a  lifetime of regret make up for mistakes made in the past?  The idea of the "sins of the father" (an excellent episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, by the way) is dealt with subtly here, with actions taken by both Luke and Avery coming back to haunt them and others in the future.  While I picked up on these themes, they weren't actually explored much at all and we only ever see their surface scratched.

The performances all around were just simply fantastic.  Cooper continues his run of great performances (namely Limitless and The Silver Linings Playbook) with Pines.  His character is incredibly sympathetic and complex.  The name of the game with this film is subtlety - no one is hamming it up here.  Subtle magic happens whenever Cooper is on screen with his character's wife Jennifer, played by Rose Byrne.  Byrne doesn't have all that much to do with the overall narrative, but she puts in one helluva performance with the little screen time she's given.  The rest of the cast is superb as well: Ben Mendelsohn, whom I usually don't like, is a fantastically strange accomplice to Luke's crimes, Ray Liotta seems to thrive in these pseudo-crime dramas and his performance is low-key and great, and Eva Mendes plays her part as Luke's struggling-to-make it ex-girlfriend.  If any props must be truly handed out they would have to go to Dane DeHaan for his work as Jason.  DeHaan is hit-or-miss with  me (he's actually only been a miss in his small bit in Lincoln) but here he puts in a powerhouse of a performance.  I can't say much about his role for fear of spoiling the film, but his character is very sympathetic as well and he pulls it off beautifully.

I purposely left my thoughts on Ryan Gosling's part for this section, the one I'll call "How the Place Beyond the Pines was the sequel/prequel to Drive."  On the surface, Pines is similar in tone and style to Drive.  Both are deliberately slow and rather plodding and Gosling's Luke shares many similarities to his Driver.  Both are loners, become involved with a woman with a small child, have to deal with the tension of said woman's boyfriend/husband, are prone to sudden acts of violence, are quiet, calm and collected, engage in robberies to help someone else out, and are stuntmen of sorts.  There's also the fact that both work for a mechanic, both of whom are somewhat dirty and greasy (figuratively and literally).  In both films his character has a special/particular "set of skills."  Hard to NOT think of the similarities, no?  It may sound like I'm complaining here, but I'm not.  Drive was my favorite film from 2011 and imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.  IF Pines is intentionally borrowing from Drive then so be it.  If not, all of those add up to HELL of a coincidence!

For the few people who will actually see this film, I can foresee them being very divided in their opinions.  While I found much to like about it, Pines certainly takes its grand old time getting any kind of narrative traction going and takes some rather bold risks in its storytelling that will most certainly turn some viewers off.  I was wholly engaged for the two-thirds of the film, until a certain character, AJ, arrives on screen and almost ruined the whole thing for me.  AJ's demeanor, accent, actions, everything, just annoyed me to no end.  The performance was utterly grating when compared to something like DeHaan's.  I understand that this was the intention of the character - we aren't supposed to like him (but maybe we're supposed to sympathize with him?  If so, the performance did nothing to attain that...) and if that was truly the goal, then it was accomplished in spades.

Pines isn't action-packed with grand explosions and cheesy one-liners (although it does feature some nail-biting, utterly gripping heist sequences).  It's a deliberately-paced drama that meanders its way through the lives of this wide array of characters.  Films like this don't usually crop up this time of year and is most certainly a welcome change of pace from the typical action blockbusters (don't get me wrong, the love the hell out of those films too!).  I'd say definitely check it out on video/streaming when it becomes available in a few months.  Just make sure to set aside plenty of time as it's almost two-and-a-half hours long.

The Place Beyond the Pines is an intriguing drama with some showcase performances.

The Bearded Bullet.

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