t h e p l a c e b e y o n d t h e p i n e s
12th April 2013
Ryan Gosling's Eyes
11th April 2013
Derek Cianfrance's Blue Valentine was no easy watch and there is no reprieve with the valorous and flawed epic The Place Beyond The Pines.
Opening with a long tracking shot following 'heart throb' motorbike rider Luke (Ryan Gosling) through a traveling fairground to the wheel of death the feeling is tense and uneasy. Exciting and foreboding. Cianfrance puts us right in his anti-hero's skin from the offset. Luke is back in Schenectady, New York and is revisited by Romina (Eva Mendes) to see if he remembers her. Of course he does, she looks like Eva Mendes. Even scrubbed down with some dodgy dress sense (this bit is the late 80's after all) the woman is still gorgeous. So, yes, Luke remembers her, he called her Ro and would love to pick up right where he left off but is thwarted by a baby and a boyfriend Kofi (Mahershala Ali). Luke tries to do the right thing, takes the wrong path and ends up encountering Avery Cross (Bradley Cooper) with whom he has more than one similarity, and Cianfrnace takes us off onto another narrative about police corruption. Gosling is such a hard act to follow that Cooper's 'act' can't help but fall flat after all that excitement. It's such a huge shift in gears from Luke to Avery that it is inevitable that the film feels a little flat in the middle, it's still enjoyable but is no longer enthralling. Cianfrance then takes us into a third act fifteen years later, now firmly in the hands of sweet, not quite innocent Jason and bullish, arrogant AJ (Luke and Avery) jnr. and their journey into the sins of the father(s).
Throughout The Place Beyond The Pines I had a sinking feeling in my stomach. A feeling one could only call the 'dreadful inevitability' of what was going to happen to these characters. Though there is something that could be called 'enjoyment' in the snatches of lightness in this film, this is immediately replaced by the foreboding. The booming religious overtones in the score only enhance this so we are constantly feeling like the worst is about to come right round the corner. Early on a scene of Luke riding angrily through the forest, catching glimpses now and then of the man he does not yet know, Robin (Ben Mendelsohn). The feeling is frenetic, exciting but also heart-pounding as we rush through trees at huge speed. We don't know what is happening here. The ride ends with Robin below shouting up to Luke (on higher ground at this point) on a verge, praising him. Luke just stares at him for a long time; passive expression, blue, blue eyes. As if somewhere deep inside he knows this man will be the one to propel him towards his tragic destiny. If only he'd just ridden a different track that day but then this film isn't about different tracks, it's about inevitable ones.
This is one hell of an exciting and sexy cast Cianfrance has put together. I did not fully appreciate the sheer force of the Gosling until this film. I will never make that mistake again. In all seriousness though, this performance is electrifying. Gosling commands our attention every second he is on the screen, chemistry with Mendes is sublime, actually his chemistry with the whole cast is sublime. The beautiful puppy dog face often just staring with his blue eyes blank, a contrast to the tattoo covered body and heavy metal dress sense. When Luke goes to see Ro to say he wants to look after her and Jason, she asks 'how?' he reacts badly, thinking her patronising him. It's so beautifully played by Mendes and Gosling. All of their scenes are. Mendes is fantastic, she feels like the real deal and she elicits real, raw emotion. We desperately want it to work out for Luke and Ro all the while knowing it probably won't. Mahershala Ali is also a stand out as Ro's long suffering boyfriend Kofi. A scene of him and sharing that Star Wars joke about fathers is beautiful. Ben Mendelssohn is perfectly off kilter as Robin. There are some great scenes between Luke and Robin and for a while these two seem like kindred spirits living the simple life providing us with some much needed light relief at times. Cooper does a great job with Cross giving him many layers but it just proves too much to follow up Luke's storyline and just doesn't feel as engaging. Relative newcomers Emory Cohen and Dane DeHaan triumphantly follow Cooper and Gosling. They breathe life back into the story. Particularly DeHaan as he manages to encapsulate the laconic, empty stare that seems to say everything and nothing that Gosling pulls off so beautifully.
British cinematographer Sean Bobitt usually works with Steve McQueen, not on frenetic action scenes however he has given the film a beautiful look. Huge wide shots of empty roads flanked by pines with a solitary figure riding along them (first Luke, then Jason) are as beautiful as they are lonely. The opening tracking shot is one of my favourites and the film retains a low budget feel at times whilst at the same time creating lush expansive images limited to deeper pockets. It's an interesting collaboration.
The destiny of the four males at the heart of this film has been pre-ordained by their fathers. Luke's father was absent. He says to Ro 'he (Jason) should know his father, my father wasn't around and look at me'. Although Luke is not 'bad'. Just mislead. On the other hand we have Avery whose father very much is around and who despite his (real?) protests he does end up taking after. Cross is a confused, conflicted and confusing character. The only thing that he actually seems remorseful about is Luke. When Jason finally comes to get his revenge this only serves to make Cross stronger. Luke is the one thing he actually has felt guilty about the whole time, testified by the picture he keeps in his wallet. This act of retribution is Cross's redemption. He can now find peace. The injustice rings through the pines. What of Jason? AJ? Which path will they choose? Luke's life could have been so different if had just ridden a different track that day in the forest, we are left with the hope that Jason chooses the right one.
The Place Beyond The Pines may have aimed a little too high after Blue Valentine's quieter lower ground but it is still a significant film and I'm looking forward to Cianfrance finding some middle ground.