please can Derek Cianfrance not get sucked up by the Hollywood machine (The Place Beyond the Pines review)

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The Place Beyond the Pines green light Ryan Gosling Eva Mendes

I’m “biast” (pro): love Ryan Gosling and Bradley Cooper

I’m “biast” (con): nothing

(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

My heart is so heavy after this film. So heavy with this film.

What is the place beyond the pines? Where is it? The Place Beyond the Pines doesn’t have anything concrete to say about this — we are left to conclude on our own that it might be, perhaps, where we go when we’ve reached a moment that went from being unimaginable to then being imperative to then being impossible — or not — slowly over the course of our lives. Or in blinks of the eye.

Or it could be a place that is something else entirely.

It feels like an act of subversion in the movie culture of the moment for an American — even an indie filmmaker like Derek Cianfrance, and please can he not get sucked up into the Hollywood machine — to create a film this satisfyingly meandering, as if it’s discovering how loose and confounding reality can be as it goes along, like maybe it’s mirroring the experience of actually living. Pines cannot be boiled down: not in plot, not in theme, not even in genre. It defies labeling — maybe “emotional thriller” comes closest to describing it, but that’s not quite right, either — and it defies pinning. It is two intertwined stories about a criminal and a cop, and, rather wonderfully and unexpectedly, their fears about fatherhood, but this is not a film about family per se. It lets us follow around two men who are never quite what they seem, even to themselves, who suffer under the delusions that surround their actions, and yet it’s this is not a film about identity per se. It is a story that doles itself out parsimoniously, though if you pay close attention you might catch on to what it’s holding back — or perhaps only think you’re catching on — and yet it is not concerned with tricking you or fooling you or even holding you in suspense.

And yet Pines is not an art film, as Cianfrance’s Blue Valentine — his disconcertingly perceptive tale of the dissolution of a marriage — might be called. It’s more like the sort of broody, restive drama Martin Scorsese might have made in the 1970s: a film that is not in the least mysterious about what’s going on but leaves you turning over what it all means, and afraid that maybe it means nothing more than that the world is a mess and humans are a mess both collectively and individually.

As if the unforeseen untidy pleasure of rummaging through the experience of a film long after it’s finished weren’t enough, there is rumpled greatness in the central performances: Ryan Gosling (The Ides of March, Drive) as Luke, stunt motorcycle driver turned bank robber to support his infant son, and Bradley Cooper (Silver Linings Playbook, The Hangover Part II) as Avery, a straight-arrow cop who is uncomfortable wearing the mantle of “hero” when it is thrown over him. They bring to what could be uninspired generic characters depths of sometimes surprising emotion and make the detours into intriguing contradiction that Cianfrance — writing with Ben Coccio and Darius Marder — burdens them with feel wholly plausible. They’re contradictions that aren’t contradictions, even, maybe, but rather hints that these two men are more alike than unlike.

That’s the thing that I keep coming back to, the provocative notion that perhaps Avery, at sea in a swamp of corruption in the Schenectady, New York, police department, has more in common with Luke than with his fellow officers — Luke is, at least, an honest crook. And there’s a shared smallness, almost a naivete, to their separate ambitions and expectations for themselves in their work — Avery is almost shocked to discover the misdeeds his coworkers get up to, although they’re nothing truly surprising; Luke is overjoyed at the takings from a small-town bank that cannot amount to much more than a few thousand dollars — and a shared fear over what happens to sons who lack fathers to guide them as they grow up.

There’s nothing grand or sweeping in Luke’s or Avery’s stories, or in how they cross paths. Cianfrance’s astonishing long, uncut takes are often languid, as in our first introduction to Luke, as he strolls through a roadside carnival to his stunt show, or else ironically understated, as in how a patrolling Avery, in our introduction to him, gets sucked into an ongoing police chase seemingly as an afterthought. And though Pines has a sense of the epic about it, in how small decisions and brief moments have long-reaching impact, there’s mostly a disquieting intimacy at work here, wherein the hopes and anxieties of two men are laid bare only to be dashed. The place beyond The Place Beyond the Pines is one haunted by wondering how much of that is their own fault, how much was inevitable no matter what they did, and whether anything at all could have led either down different paths.

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Tue, Apr 09, 2013 2:57pm

Oh good! The trailer made it look like the usual Hollywood maunderings about the Sacredness of Fatherhood and never mind what the women think.

Rebecca Dalmas
Tue, Apr 09, 2013 3:43pm

Looking forward to it.

Wed, Apr 10, 2013 5:27pm

MaryAnn, I love when your reviews make me not just want to watch a particular movie (like this review certainly does), but just makes me want to escape and watch movies in general. =)

Wed, Apr 10, 2013 11:49pm

Apparently one of @mishacollins’s friends is one of the writers, and he’s running a contest to get people to see the movie. You can win a poster of the movie signed by the stars if you take a photo of yourself at the theater with your ticket and then answer one of 5 trivia questions right. (and presumably are the first person to do so.)

Mon, Apr 15, 2013 5:34am

Ryan Gosling is my favorite actor and I loved blue valentine but I didn’t like this at all. it wasn’t emotionally fulfilling in any way nor did it excite me. After the first hour, I was done.

Mon, Apr 15, 2013 7:43am

Great review as you brought up things that I evidently missed.. This movie is what art is about. I’m going to see it again because of its density that isn’t phony like Malick’s and others’ movies but complex in the real world.

Sat, May 18, 2013 8:11am

The movie was all over the place and was just bad. These reviewers have no idea what they are talking about. They try to delve into the movies meaning and so on. It was dribble and a waste of time !

reply to  Gred
Mon, Jun 10, 2013 7:54pm

i cant believe there is a person who didnt like this movie. whats there not to like?

Hard Little Machine
Hard Little Machine
Sat, May 20, 2017 12:59am

It’s crap. The best part was dancing with the little dog to Springsteen

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  Hard Little Machine
Sat, May 20, 2017 4:39pm

Why is it crap? C’mon. Do you want to have a conversation about the movie, or do you just want to piss on it and on my review? (If it’s the latter, then just go away.)

Mary Vasilakakos
Mary Vasilakakos
Fri, Jan 20, 2023 8:10am

Mary Ann,
I love your reviews because they always get to the heart of the cinematic aspects we watch movies for, you’re not just rehashing the plot. That’s not film crit!
I may not always agree with your take on a particular film, but your work is always stimulating and challenging me to evaluate and assess my own reactions to movies. Not many critics can do that. I sense an intellectual honesty in your work, it’s not BS for the sake of it.
I only recently watched The Place Beyond the Pines on streaming and was pretty mesmerized by it. Gosling and Liotta are pitch perfect (I adore them both!) and though not a great fan of Cooper, he too puts in a brilliant turn.
However I mostly appreciate your comments about what the film seems to be and not to be simultaneously. That was my main emotional response to it while watching and afterwards.
I adore cinema (and books) that require me to do some work to meet them on their own terms, I don’t like obvious stuff served to the viewer on a platter, so to speak.
Thank you for your reviews, I always look forward to them with delight.
Regards, Mary