Friday, April 12, 2013


In 2010, director Derek Cianfrance made a splash with his little indie-love film, BLUE VALENTINE; a movie which earned an Oscar nomination and made an instant bankable star in Ryan Gosling. Fast-forward to 2013, where Cianfrance unveils THE PLACE BEYOND THE PINES; a sprawling yet intimate film, bordering on epic, which throws conventional filmmaking out the window.
Luke (Gosling) is a motorcycle-stunt driver for a circus. When the show pulls into Schenectady, N.Y., he bumps into an old fling (Eva Mendes), and discovers that he has a son. Suddenly committed to his son, Luke quits the circus and takes to robbing banks to support him, a new job which he is successful at until he crosses paths with rookie cop Avery (Bradley Cooper), in a showdown which changes many lives in an instant.

THE PLACE BEYOND THE PINES literally embraces the structure of a three-act play. Act One is all about Luke’s commitment to his son and desire to be part of a family. Act Two shifts over to Avery’s story, as the new hero-cop deals with his sudden fame and eventual mix-up in a (somewhat clich├ęd) dirty-cop scandal. Act Three hits the fast-forward button 15 years and deals with the sons of Luke and Avery (brilliantly played by Emory Cohen and Dane DeHann), as the two teens deal with the actions of their fathers in their past, present, and future before coming back around.
Many films use a three-act structure, but PINES has such sudden dramatic shifts that it literally feels like three movies all rolled up in one. The film peaks with Act One, and nearly never feels powerful again after that; it often feels like a different director has stepped in. However, by the mid-way point through the second Act, things begin to click and the connections between all the characters become clear. PINES develops into an anthology film with powerful themes between fathers and sons; a theme that sneaks up on you with an emotional wallop by the film’s end.

While Derek Cianfrance is weaving a masterpiece of a narrative through years of his characters’ lives, he still finds time to give us a stunning-looking film. It is beautifully shot and scored, and he manages a consistent tempo from the pulse-pounding bank robberies to the intimate showdowns between families. Cianfrance also pulls off some one-take tracking-shots (no edits) during a chase sequence that has to be seen to be believed.
Cianfrance also gets great performances out of the rather large cast. Gosling is great, although his performance is somewhat stock as he never gives much more than his usual blank-stare into the camera. The movie is stolen by Cooper, who gives every bit of emotion and personal torment his character calls for. The rest of the cast is excellent; Ray Liotta, Eva Medes, Bruce Greenwood, Rose Byrne, Harris Yulin, and Ben Mendelsohn bring tremendous performances.

The true genius of THE PLACE BEYOND THE PINES is that the many different stories, all connected, evolve naturally and never feels forced or brought about by easy coincidences. The film feels like the type of story a grandfather would spend hours telling his children and grandchildren in real life as it has the stuff of legend and an ending which makes you wonder and/or imagine what might come next. PINES is ambitious and artful, soulful and somber, and ultimately unforgettable.

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