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David Poland

By David Poland

Review: The Place Beyond The Pines

For me, The Place Beyond The Pines is classic melodrama… the kind Hollywood made in black-and-white and for a moment, some luxurious Sirkian color. To call it Shakespearean is not too much. Really, it may be the best analogy. But if Baz Luhrmann takes Shakespeare and reconsiders his themes through the brash color and sounds of a movie musical, Derek Cianfrance’s prism is the raw, reality-laden perspective of a Cassavetes or Lumet or even Albert Maysles or Diane Arbus.

It’s very hard to explain this movie to you without spoiling it, as the story structure is a surprise in and of itself.

So let’s try this…

The film is about fathers and sons. The two majors characters, played by Ryan Gosling and Bradley Cooper, both have to deal with both sides of that issue at different times in the story. Is life better with your father by your side or can the pressure be as bad, if not worse, that feeling that void? Can we avoid the parts of ourselves that come with our genetics? Are we in the hands of fate?

Ryan Gosling’s last performance in a Cianfrance film, Blue Valentine, was a big part of his emergence. But many people still argue about that guy. A complete ass? Trying but failing? Stuck in a situation he isn’t able to control? It’s not that there is ambivalence about the character, so much as there are deeply passionate opinions that conflict with one another.

The same with be true of Gosling’s “Luke” here. As charismatic as Gosling often is, this is a guy who wears trouble like an aftershave. A kissing cousin of Catlin Adams’ “Patty Bernstein” (The Jerk), he’s the kind of guy who likes to wander ’round, never in one place, he roams from town to town. But when he returns to Schenectady, NY after a year touring with the sideshow, “Romina” (Eva Mendes) has a surprise for him. And unlike The Wanderer, he doesn’t hop right on his bike and ride around the world. He has no idea how to be a committed father… but he’s desperate to try.

Eventually, he will encounter “Avery Cross” (Bradley Cooper), who has a stable life and family legacy in Schenectady. But he’s trying to find his place outside of his family, even as he starts his own.

Movies being movies, there is a reason for these two particular people to meet… a part of the ongoing tale, which will only come together as the next generation matures.

For me, this is Bradley Cooper’s best movie work so far, a leap ahead of his tremendous Silver Linings Playbook performance, if only because this character, at times, really has to carry the film without the distraction of a parade of funny or charming supporting characters. SLP was emotional, but this is like scraping the inside of a rusty can at times. And he carries it off as well as anyone could.

And Dane DeHaan continues to rack up monster wins, movie after movie. Everything that is slightly gawky and overly long about Leo DiCaprio is that much more so in DeHaan’s case. But the kid just owns the screen. Eva Mendes goes raw and makes it work. And Ben Mendelsohn & Harris Yulin are both like the best subway straps in the world… they keep you solidly on your feet when things are in an uproar, whether it’s Mendelsohn as a scumbag with honor or Yulin as Your Honor with a side of scumbag. They are not safe actors, but within the context of a film, they offer a safe, interesting stability for the audience.

One of the lovely things about Cianfrance is that his casting in small roles, whether veteran actors (like Ray Liotta here) or real people he hires to be some minor variation on themselves, is impeccable. This makes each film so much richer.

Gosling, as ever, just IS. The guy is what Steve McQueen must have dreamed about being, getting the roles they didn’t write for McQueen back when. At least, that’s my perspective on McQueen. Gosling brings to his work, for me, the thing that people who love McQueen talk about feeling from him.

It’s hard to imagine anyone truly disliking this film. And in an odd way, loving it right off seems like a bit too easy. It’s an odd structure and doesn’t give up everything easily. But once you go with it and get to the end, I think most people will want to circle back and take a little more. And again. And again. A film that will grow on you and with you.

5 Responses to “Review: The Place Beyond The Pines”

  1. Matt says:

    Well put, David. I saw this back at TIFF and adored it, Cianfrance’s ambition is admirable and while I think it’s fair to say every melodramatic risk he takes doesn’t pay off, I struggle to think of an American crime drama in recent memory with this much ambition. Cooper really anchors the thing with a soulfulness and vulnerability, much like in Silver Linings (which I saw at TIFF in consecutive days and let’s just say my perception of an actor has NEVER changed so quickly in a 2 day span). For such a star that I didn’t think much of, his ability to appear so broken on screen has impressed the hell out of me between these 2 films. Gosling is his usual great self and DeHaan is an extremely exciting young actor. I guess my one beef with you review is that I do unfortunately see a lot of people disliking it. I think the ambitious and melodramatic risks Cianfrance takes is going to turn a lot of people off, same with the triptych style of the film. Still, it’s a rare sight for March to provide us with a film well worth talking, arguing and definitely revisiting. I do think time will be kind to this one. I’ve waited 7 months to be able to discuss this in detail with a lot of my film friends, so I’m happy that’s finally going to happen.

  2. etguild2 says:

    I totally agree. Any thoughts on the release date? It’s kind of difficult to unwrap, for sure, but it’s more accessible than BLUE VALENTINE IMO and I think it’s also a complicated crowd pleaser…a bit similar to GONE BABY GONE. I don’t get the date dump…a week after Focus’s first wide release (a bomb) in months no less.

  3. Lex says:

    Considering this looks like AT CLOSE RANGE to some degree, and ACR is close to my favorite movie of all time, I am super-stoked.

    But… is this really 140 minutes?

  4. Paul Doro says:

    For people sick of others griping about spoilers, my apologies. And a SPOILER WARNING here seems warranted (even though I have not seen the movie yet).

    I am however really looking forward to seeing it (believe it opens in Milwaukee April 12) so I eagerly read today’s NY Times story featuring Gosling and Cianfrance. I was shocked then to see them compare Gosling’s character to Janet Leigh’s in Psycho and note that his character exits the movie early on. Isn’t that a major spoiler? I don’t get why they volunteered that information right before the movie opens.

  5. notman kynton says:


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