Wednesday, October 2, 2013

FI: The Place Beyond the Pines

The Place Beyond the Pines
US, 2012
Directed and co-written by Derek Cianfrance

In talking about The Place Beyond the Pines, Mark Kermode (one of my favorite film critics—seriously, listen to the Wittertainment podcast) compared Derek Cianfrance's film to a Greek tragedy akin to the fall of the house of Atreus. There is something of that epic, generations-spanning quality to Pines, but to me it felt of a piece with Cianfrance's previous film Blue Valentine; both examine the cyclical nature of family strife and the things that children inherit and learn from their parents. But where Blue Valentine showed this for both its male and female leads, The Place Beyond the Pines is almost wholly concerned with fathers and sons. As such, it continues an inadvertently-themed week of stories questioning masculinity here on the blog, following The Great Gatsby and The Kings of Summer.

In Pines, Ryan Gosling plays Luke Glanton, a motorcycle stunt rider who leads a nomadic existence as part of a travelling fairground attraction. In one blue-collar upstate New York town—the film's name is based on an English translation of "Schenectady"—Luke encounters Romina (Eva Mendes), a former lover who reveals that she had his baby after he left town the last time. Romina has since moved on to be with Kofi (Mahershala Ali), but Luke decides to stay in town and be involved in his son's life in the way his own father never was. However, stunt riders are in low demand and the low-paying job Luke takes with shady mechanic Robin (Ben Mendelsohn) leads him to consider other opportunities. Meanwhile, Avery (Bradley Cooper) is a naive rookie cop with a law degree, whose judge father (Harris Yulin) views everything politically and whose wife (Rose Byrne) resents his chosen career. In his time with the force, he encounters characters both savory and less-than-savory (Ray Liotta, I'm looking at you), and finds his morality challenged. These two men, and the collision between their stories, form the first two parts of a triptych that also extends into the future. Throughout, the film calls into question what it means to be a man, a father, a provider, and a role model, and how our deficiencies in each area get passed down to our kids.

Cianfrance employs the same gritty, hand-held camerawork he used in Blue Valentine, but here he teams with cinematographer Sean Bobbitt—a frequent collaborator of the brilliantly visual Steve McQueen (Hunger, Shame, the upcoming 12 Years a Slave)—who brings an assured eye, greater dynamism, and a deeper saturation to the film's look. This helps establish a tone that is at once naturalistic and heightened, befitting the melodramatic roots of Cianfrance, Ben Coccio, and Darius Marder's script, but grounding it in a sense of reality. This same balance is felt in the score by Mike Patton (yes, THAT Mike Patton), which is atmospheric and minute at times, jarring and pointed at others. Cianfrance furthers his reputation as an actor's director, getting excellent work out of Gosling, Dane DeHaan, Cooper, and Mendelsohn (who is slowly becoming one of my favorite character actors). The overall effect, here, does feel less than the sum of its parts. While tense, at times, the plot feels somewhat clockwork and relies on a few coincidences that feel more like authorial intervention than organic occurrences. It is a long film, and the final act (important though it is to the whole) is a bit tough to get through. But beyond those quibbles, and a minor sense of unearned portentousness, The Place Beyond the Pines should be commended. It's a solid, weighty, well-crafted drama of the sort that rarely appears in theaters now that adult ideas have fled to prestige television, and that is something to encourage.

No comments:

Post a Comment