The Place beyond the Pines

Place_Beyond_the_PinesDirected by Derek Cianfrance Story by Derek Cianfrance & Ben Coccio (and Ryan Gosling (uncredited – Part I only))
Screenplay by Derek Cianfrance & Ben Coccio and Darius Marder
Ryan Gosling: Luke
Bradley Cooper: Avery Cross
Eva Mendes: Romina
Dane Dehaan: Jason
Ray Liotta: Deluca
Ben Mendelsohn: Robin
Emory Cohen: AJ
Rose Byrne: Jennifer Cross
Mahershala Ali: Kofi
Harris Yulin: Al Cross

B ★★★

The Place Beyond the Pines is a weird movie because it does something weird. It switches narrative focus on two different occasions, resulting in what feels like three different movies that all build on each other. This is a fantastic trait, and just for attempting this, I want to credit director Derek Cianfrance and his co-writers (Ben Coccio and Darius Marder). Yet, he final of these parts drags the movie down significantly. I will now review each part on its own before returning to reviewing the film as a whole. However, I would just like to say that this is an increadibly ambitious project and that parts I and II take place in the mid-nineties, with the third part taking place in modern day (which, considering the film released alongside Silver Linings Playbook at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2012, probably takes place sometime between 2010-2012). Also, let me just analyze the performance of Eva Mendes, who is the only person in all three stories. She plays a likable character who is so constantly depressed that we just get depressed when she walks on screen. She plays Romina as if she had filled in for Atlas and had carried the sky, but never quite recovered, so she’s always exhausted. It was a good performance that is probably quite realistic, but it ended up hurting the film through her lack of excitement in a slow story that desperately needed some excitement.
In any case, here is my review of the three parts:

Part I – Luke’s Story
A- HHHI
This first part tells the story of Luke (Ryan Gosling), a mysterious man who rides a motorcycle in stunts for a traveling carnival. That motorcycle is livelihood. Cianfrance and director of Photography, Sean Bobbitt, open on extreme close-up of Gosling fiddling with a knife, and are, from there, led through the entire carnival through a stunning steadicam shot reminiscent of Russkij Kovcheg (or Russian Ark in English) (a historical drama filmed in one 96-minute-long film steadicam shot), in which Gosling walks from his trailer to a tend of cheering visitors who paid to see him risk his life as he rides his motorcycle into a “globe of death” where Gosling went on to coolly do vertical loops with three other bicycles. (Said shot almost killed Bobbitt, who was at the center of the sphere, filming.) After this stunning introduction, he runs into Romina (Mendes), his old girlfriend. Gosling then drives her home, where he discovers that she is caring for a baby with her new boyfriend/husband, Kofi (Mahershala Ali). The catch? The baby is Luke’s.
Naturally, feeling responsible, Luke wants to provide for young Jason (that’s the baby’s name: Jason), and makes drastic changes to do so. It doesn’t take long before he realizes that he needs to quit his job and begins robbing banks. With Deluca (Ray Liotta), Deluca has done this before, so he knows what he’s doing. Luke begins to reek the rewards of having spending money as he is finally able ti be a father to his young son. He really does care for Jason, and that’s the only reason he’s committing crimes. However, after Luke beats Kofi for not allowing him to see his son, he is taken to prison. Deluca bails him out, but says that he’s too worried to continue to rob banks, forcing Luke to continue on his own. Luke continues on.
It doesn’t take long for him to screw up, not having a getaway vehicle waiting for him. This develops into a dramatic chase, where we first meet Avery (Bradley Cooper), who is one of the policemen chasing down Luke. In desperation, Luke runs into a family’s home. There, Avery comes upstairs and, in less than a second, shoots Luke, who falls out the window to his death, but not before shooting Avery in the leg. From there, we begin part II.
This first part feels very much like Drive, do in large part to its lead. As always, Gosling is amazing. Just as in Drive and George Clooney’s The Ides of March, he is mesmerizing to watch. Liotta had an unusual part, as he was thoroughly gruff while being the most likable character in the entire film. This is also the part who Cianfrance is strongest as a director, making you feel for a slew of unlikable and dour characters.

Part II – Avery’s Story
A HHHH

As I said above, Avery’s story really begins during the chase sequence of Part I, but that is not his story. After killing Luke, Avery has a strong emotional response, which his wife, Jennifer (Rose Byrne), helps him through, and doesn’t want to return to active duty (he’s is healing from his injury for the majority of this story), but absolutely wants to stay on the force. That said, killing Luke has made him a hero. However, led by Robin (Ben Mendelsohn), his cop buddies lead the injured hero to the home of Romina, where they suspect Luke hid some of his money. They are right. However, instead of turning this money into the police, these corrupt cops split it between themselves. Indeed, we son find that the entire force is outstandingly corrupt. They even try to get Avery, who has been stationed overseeing the inventory of confiscated and illegal items, to smuggle out a stash of cocaine and bundles of cash. Avery, who begins as the unequaled hero, can’t stand that the police force is breaking the laws, and goes on to report this to DA on the condition that he be appointed assistant district attorney (after all, he did go to law school).
This part is not quite as well directed as Part I, but it is the most interesting story and the characters here are not nearly as depressing as in the rest of the film. However, more than anything else, Cooper shines. Just as he did in Silver Linings, Cooper embraces an exceptionally difficult role and excels. He is, for me, the film’s highest point. In particular, there is a scene in a therapist’s office in which Avery desperately tries to explain the emotional response he’s had to murdering Luke, but just can’t seem to find the right words. Lucky for us, we don’t need any words because we can see it on Cooper’s face. Also, how did they make him look so young?!

Part III – The Kids
C- HH

This third tale was pretty much unwatchable for me. It begins with Avery giving a eulogy at funeral for his father, Al (Harris Yulin). It is fifteen years later and the Avery is now running for the office of the district attorney. However, that means that he has had to move and he now too busy to be with AJ (Emory Cohen), his son. Now, before I go on, I would just like to say that Cohen single-handedly ruined this movie. I don’t know why he did what he did, but his performance his pitiful. He has an obviously fake New Jersey accent that makes absolutely no sense and he is so insanely unlikable and rebellious that we loose any feelings we might have for him. Plus, he’s supposed to be a drug user, which is a fine addition to the character, but they made him so obcessed that the only way to tackle his story would be through the lens of an addiction story such as Flight, only poorly acted and with no engaging sidestory, so we are really just left with a story that is so outstandingly hard to watch to that it soon grows intolerable.
At AJ’s first day at his new school, he meets Jason (Dane Dehaan), who is Luke’s son, now grown up as another unlikable seventeen year old who does excessive amounts of drugs. Dehaan was okay in his role, but does nothing to elevate the story, which connects the two parts prior in utterly expected ways. Now, the idea that the 2 children would meet is a nice touch, but by extending this story an additional twenty-five to thirty minutes, just feels like torture. You really feel like Cianfrance made a great movie, and then, masochistically destroys it with this third act.
The bizarre thing story-wise is when Jason discovers his father’s identity, and that Avery is responsible for his death, leading him to do some pretty drastic things. Once again, the only reason this received its two stars is thanks to its fantastic star. Cooper stuns yet again as he weeps on his knees before Jason, praying for the wellbeing of the son he ignored, while on minutes earlier, yelled at AJ for befriending Jason with utter brutality. Cooper is great in this movie, even though it wasn’t quite as good as in Silver Linings.

One Response to The Place beyond the Pines

  1. Pingback: A Place Beyond the Pines | cinemashadow

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