Film Review: The Place Beyond the Pines (Focus Features)

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by David Ashley

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PlaceBeyondthePinesBig580officv1aIn the uninterrupted opening shot of The Place Beyond the Pines, Mr. Gosling walks a lengthy distance through a carnival into a tent containing the “ball of death,” a metal sphere in which three dirt bikers will zoom around and astound us by not dying horrifically bloody deaths. Mr. Gosling gets onto a dirt bike just like the other two men, drives into the cage and performs, impressing us all. The shot is designed to prove to us that Gosling’s character is a biker of unparalleled skill – but anybody who saw Drive (which is everybody who’s seeing this film) already knows that Gosling is a fearless driver and thrill seeker (it is worth noting that co-writer/director Derek Cianfrance experienced serendipity during pre-production when Gosling admitted to him that one thrill he had not sought was robbing a bank). Now Gosling publicly says he wishes to “take a break from himself,” curtailing a profound ego trip before it goes sour (probably wise) and to the dismay of many media-injecting starfuckers who’ve been reveling in the vicarious experience. Is it a coincidence that this introspective announcement follows his work with the priest-like Terrence Malick, a man whose cult reputation among cineastes dwarfs George Clooney, Nicholas Winding Refn, and the rest of the Hollywood machine? Just look at what happened to Tom Cruise after reaching the highest peak of cinema and reputation (his work with Stanley Kubrick). Did Cruise ever work as hard again? Or did he work to extend his ego trip into infinity? With luck, our man Gosling has been questioning his own exhibitionism. No offense, Mr. Gosling, I’ve been enjoying you nearly as much as you’ve been enjoying yourself. What will you do next? Will the next Gosling news bite we are fed represent his next effort to astound us, perhaps in another venue/medium? Examining his CV, it occurs to me that Gosling has really not made too many films – lots of indy works and a few dynamic bravura performances. His career trajectory has been breakneck. And – this is never mentioned – he is Canadian. Is there another Canadian so sought, so sexy, so celebrated? He is a year older than me (here comes the waterworks).

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That being said, I have considerable issues with Cianfrance’s work (I appear to be in a minority). The Place Beyond the Pines (the Mohawk name for Schenectady, NY, the film’s setting) is like a sloppier, longer version of Michael Haneke’s The White Ribbon, about how actions have consequences and how sin does not exist in a void, but actively infects each new generation. In a role which can only be considered a cakewalk after what we’ve seen, Gosling plays “Luke,” one of Cianfrance’s many fuck-ups, a “man who works around metal” (red flag!) and whose only desire is to do right by the child he unthinkingly created a year ago after blasting off into the womb of a local waitress played by Eva Mendes. Mr. Bad News brilliantly decides that robbing banks will be the best way to accomplish this and succeeds in his inevitable crime spree until he is cornered in a local house and capriciously killed by rookie cop Avery Cross (a name Tyler Perry is likely kicking himself over not having come up with first), played by Bradley Cooper. The story’s second chapter details Cross’s lingering regret over the shooting and his eventual decline into civic corruption among some inhumanly scummy cops, naturally alpha-ed by Ray Liotta. It would appear that audiences are collectively groaning over the film’s third act, taking place 15 years into the future where nobody has perceptibly aged, and where the now grown boys of “Luke” and Cross do still more horrible things to themselves and others as a consequence of their fathers’ sins.

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People seem to like Cianfrance’s films because they attempt to capture the cadences of “ordinary folks,” though this largely results in hammed up performances of a great deal of schmoozy banter. The script allegedly went through 37 ungodly drafts, helping to explain why it’s so bloody long (nobody wanted his ideas tossed) and why it seems to be so disjointedly contrived. We’re expected to sort of morally write off every poor decision and moral compromise, as if these inherited sins absolve us of responsibility. But why does Cross, whose father is a judge, blackmail his superior into a promotion?  There is a line from Adaptation which, unbidden, came to mind more than once: “On top of that, you explore the notion that cop and criminal are really two aspects of the same person. See every cop movie ever made for other examples of this.”  What motivates the frantic actions of Luke’s son (played by the talented Dane DaHaan) who was raised by caring parents? Every kid gets spiteful at some point – but stealing a gun, breaking into a house and pistol whipping your peer, then kidnapping his father, going into the forest and preparing to execute him?? Precisely what world are we inhabiting here? It is not fun to watch horrible things happen to horrible people who do horrible things to each other. It is a hundred and forty humorless minutes of fuck-ups fucking up, the only emotion it stirs is pity, and it takes itself as seriously as a Christopher Nolan film. I will grant Cianfrance this much: I smiled once. It was when they played a Suicide song preceding Luke’s first robbery. That was a great twenty seconds!

Official The Place Beyond the Pines Website

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