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Review: The Place Beyond the Pines

After seeing the first trailer and image stills for The Place Beyond the Pines, there was a general consensus amongst critics and Baby Goose naysayers that this was just ‘Drive on a motorcycle’. Which on the surface of what had been presented, didn’t seem too distant a possibility. All the cues from Drive were there: The effortlessly cool Steve Mcqueen-esque loner protagonist who uses his skills in automotive speed for criminal gain, but has a heart of gold hidden beneath a murderous rage. I have to admit that I had written this film off and had no intention of seeing it, until I happened to read a review written by actor James Franco, who as it turns out can make pretty compelling arguments for works of art that he finds interesting.

Franco is not someone I tend to take too seriously, as evidenced by my previous article on his bat shit crazy art projects and educational endeavours, but who lately I’ve started to listen to when it comes to filmmaking and the acting process. Franco is smart and he knows what he’s talking about. His article in the Huffington Post revealed that there was a lot more to the film’s structure and performances which is not evident in the trailer. The trailer does what you expect a trailer to do. It promotes the film using the most bankable star, which in this case is Ryan Gosling. But Gosling is only one leg of director, Derek Cianfrance’s hand crafted table.

If You Ride Like Lightning, Your Going to Crash Like Thunder

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The Place Beyond the Pines is a story spanning the lives of two generations, connected by a tragic event, with the theme of legacy being passed down from fathers to sons. The film itself is split into three main parts, each with a unique focus. We start with Gosling’s character, Luke Glanton, a motorcycle stunt driver for a roving circus act. He rolls back into the town his circus troupe performed in the previous year, to discover that a pit stop romance between him and local girl Romina (Eva Mendes), has resulted in a baby boy.

This news and sudden responsibility changes his life, giving him purpose where he had none before. In the opening scenes you see Gosling going through the motions of his endlessly repetitive motorcycle stunt performance without much of a care in the world. He has nothing to live for. No obvious family or friends. Gosling is a master of communicating this through the way he holds himself and by what he wears. The torn shirts and scruffy demeanour and endless chain of cigarettes show the lack of self worth, while his tattoos convey a person who has no one to share his inner most thoughts with. He almost literally wears them on his sleeve, like a family photo album of significant events.

Avery Cross (Bradley Cooper), is an intelligent college educated, albeit naive, cop who has ambitions to match. His story violently collides with Luke’s and sets off a chain of events which define Avery’s life. From then on the film focuses solely on him. He, like Luke, has just become a father, and must provide for his family. His rookie attitude and good cop ideology comes into conflict with the police corruption he witnesses and puts him on a path of isolation from his fellow officers. What he decides to do next is what propels him to the life he was always promised, albeit with muddied hands.

The Sins Of The Father

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For the third and final act we see the sins of the fathers reflected in the lives of their sons, fifteen years after the incident, and we get to witness history repeating but with the benefit of hindsight. The actors playing the sons actually do a marvellous job of displaying the wounds of broken families and distant fathers. The constant for the film, which helps anchor the story arc, is the score’s use of Arvo Pärt’s “Fratres” which is a hauntingly moving composition used between each shift in the film’s three part structure. Arvo Pärt’s music is fast becoming an overused film-score trope though, ala Nick Drake, and may be recognisable to some from other films. The “Fratres” composition was also fittingly used in another film about father’s and sons, in Paul Thomas Anderson’s There Will Be Blood.

Derek Cianfrance’s transitions from one episode to the next remind me of Kubrick’s The Shining. There’s a sort of omnipotent voyeurism about it, whether it’s following Luke on his motorcycle gliding along the open road or his son Joshua bicycle free-wheeling down a hill, the transitions are slow and smooth. In the end I was glad I went and saw the film. I do find it odd that it was released this time of year as I feel it could have benefited from a later release to help with building buzz come awards season. The Place Beyond the Pines is as good as any of the Oscar contenders from last year, so go see it.

GRADE: B+

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Comments

  1. Excellent write-up. It sounds interesting, I shall have to catch it at the Watershed next week 🙂

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