The Place Beyond the Pines
Published: April 17, 2013
The Place Beyond the Pines
Directed by Derek Cianfrance
Wow, this is not an easy movie, but what a great movie, and what a novelty. This is not a bank-robber movie, or a motorcycle chase-scene movie, or a crooked-cops movie, or a coming-of-age movie, but all that stuff is herein to serve a slow-burning, deadly serious story that starts with a touring carnival motorcycle-stunt performer (Ryan Gosling as Luke—and don’t worry, he gets that shirt off quick), who, after a year on the road, finds himself back in the weirdly dark, enervating, tip-of-the-Rust-Belt city of Schenectady, N.Y., aka The Place Beyond the Pines. It’ll make sense later.
Gosling’s performance is everything here, powerful and delicate and terrible and touching, with that secret little smile and those eyes, charming even when there’s a creepy prison tattoo near one of ’em. Luke has unfinished business with Romina (Eva Mendes, yum), so he takes up residence in town and attempts to construct a life to win this lady over. Cue the bank robbing, featuring nerve-jangling action and a perfect and seemingly effortless performance by Ben Mendelsohn as Robin, a seedy auto mechanic who knows how to make ends meet without turning a wrench.
Another Hollywood Sexiest Man Alive, Bradley Cooper, is also in this movie, and you’d think this might be a bad idea, but he doesn’t ruin it; he does a great job as Avery, an ambitious local policeman, and his story pulls you into a different place and the tale unspools in a vaguely familiar, ripped-from-today’s-headlines way, but you’re really inside it with these characters, these people who are in this movie but are living and breathing and reacting and being. A deftly dialed-down Ray Liotta shows up as a cop, and his qualities as a screen presence are subtly exploited so that you aren’t pulled out of the confident and unhurried naturalism of this film. Dane DeHaan, as Jason—a more than slightly miserable high school student with family and legal troubles—channels some solid young Leonardo DiCaprio/James Dean teen angst and takes over the picture at times as he plays against Emory Cohen as fellow bad student AJ, a truly annoying jackass you just want to slap hard.
This movie is 140 minutes long and it just might wear you down a bit. Director Derek Cianfrance also made Blue Valentine (a million laughs) with Ryan Gosling, and there aren’t any Hollywood answers here, it’s more like what might happen if a good serious novelist got to make a movie and didn’t have to worry about the actors fucking everything up. This film is kinda depressing, stressful, and emotionally draining, because you just know some bad things will happen, but the notes sounded hang in the air in front of you for a while, and you realize how well-crafted and intelligent the whole thing is, along with everyone involved in performing it. This is a movie that exists in reality every minute, and even though it has movie stars, it’s still a lot like what directors were trying to do back in the ’70s, only better: shooting scenes of the real world and creating a cinematic atmosphere but with natural sound, lighting, and characters who look and act like human beings. It’s only a movie, but everyone involved has helped create something resonant and alive and sad and special.
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