Monday, April 1, 2013

MOVIE OF THE WEEK: The Place Beyond The Pines

"You're just like your father". It's an age-old saying that really resonated with me while I watched "The Place Beyond The Pines". This story of fathers and sons attempts to uncover the effects of fatherly guidance (more specifically, the lack thereof) on the fate of their sons. It's told in an episodic manner as the plot is divided into 3 parts as we dig into the connected stories of Luke (Ryan Gosling) and Avery (Bradley Cooper). Luke is a desperate motorcycle stuntsman who gets involved in bank robberies to provide for the young son he has just become aware of. Meanwhile, Avery is an ambitious police officer who is pressured to live up to the legacy of his father, a former state Supreme Court judge. As you can probably guess, their fates collide and their actions have repurcussions throughout the film.
The plot unfolds as a generational saga that is reminiscent of "The Godfather", while poignant individual moments capture a more Mike Leigh-esque "kitchen sink" sensibility. As a result, the film is both epic and intimate. There's a lot going on in the film, as it reaches for profound thematic depth. Gosling's storyline is a crime drama with action elements, while Cooper's plays as a morality tale as his character investigates corruption within the police force. The 3rd act focuses on their sons and is an angst-ridden high school drama.
The first act is the most compelling, as it really plays to Cianfrance's strengths as a writer-director. As we saw in "Blue Valentine", he has an incredible knack for depicting familial conflict with conversations/arguments that feel very raw and honest, while revealing so much about the characters. Additionally, the events of this section showed off his ability to direct action scenes, executing some very exciting chase scenes. I was completely floored by the awesome long tracking shots that he uses (kudos to the cinematographer) in the opening scene and subsequent scenes surrounding the bank robberies.
On top of that, Cianfrance is aided by a captivating performance from Gosling, who once again embodies his character brilliantly. Effectively playing up his attractive looks, he manages to convey a vulnerability that draws in the viewer, even when his character is purposefully unpleasant. Despite only being featured in the early part of the film, his presence looms over the entire film.
As we move away from this character, the film admittedly loses some of its intrigue. The other 3 main performances (Cooper, DeHaan and Cohen) pale in comparison to Gosling. It's further proof that he is a unique talent. The lessened interest in the latter acts can perhaps be due to a minor flaw in the film's writing. As with "The Godfather" this is a somewhat patriarchal society. However, given the detached relationship between the men and their sons, it's curious to see such unwritten female characters. It indirectly affects Cohen's character, as his distasteful personality wasn't firmly grounded in his social background and parental influence. As Cooper's wife and Cohen's father, Rose Byrne's role is woefully minuscule. It's disappointing to see as her character is so obviously important to the plot. In the other family, Eva Mendes gets a bit more to work with, but it still seems insufficient. It felt like the director got so caught up in the father-son dynamic that he neglected the women. There's a lot that was left unseen or unsaid that would have added some more "oomph" to the story.
In the end however, it all came together satisfactorily for me. The legacy of Gosling's Luke character seeps through every action and consequence, giving the film a great amount of depth and gravitas. Overall, it's a well-made film showcasing a filmmaker of considerable skill. I look forward to whatever he does next.


  1. Good review bud. You already know how I feel about this one. I didn't love it, yet, I didn't hate it. A tad disappointed by all of this, but at least the performances kept me always watching.

    1. Yeh the performances are undeniable, especially Gosling.

  2. I do agree that Cianfrance neglects women to a certain extent (then again, it is a tale of father/sons so putting the mothers in the forefront I think would have masked that) but I do disgree about the third act of the story. I think the younger actors (especially DaHaan who I have come to love) was really good. He had to sort of seething nature that I loved.

    1. Well, I didn't want the mothers in the forefront, just wanted them to get a little more screen time. The film clearly implies that the mothers were important parts of the sons' lives, so I just wanted their roles to reflect that.

      I thought DeHaan was strong too, but Gosling was the one who really grabbed me. My lukewarm reaction to Cohen's performance was likely due to my issues with the characterization, more than his actual acting.

      Thanks for the comment!

  3. One of the things I loved most about the movie is the way the contrivances that bring everything together don't feel like contrivances. See how Avery just happens to be driving down the right road at the right time, or how AJ just happens to sit next to Jason of all people at lunch. It feels like the hand of fate, rather than that of a screenwriter or director. Not an easy thing to pull off.

    Glad you liked the film as much as I did :)