Friday, April 12, 2013

Movie Review: The Place Beyond the Pines

Three years after the gut wrenching, brilliant Blue Valentine director Derek Cianfrance goes into ridiculously ambitious mode, and somehow ends up succeeding at the toughest portions while failing where you least expect him to. It’s a grand, massive Hollywood drama that showcases Cianfrance’s terrific artistic vision and ends up being iconic for the way it self-combusts.

Ryan Gosling, Eva Mendes, Bradley Cooper, Dane DeHaan, Ben Mendelsohn are cast in a sprawling storyline that spans fifteen years. It is difficult to talk about The Place Beyond the Pines without delving into spoilers, it is three movies in one, two of which are utterly brilliant. Cianfrance takes a whole new approach to the hackneyed father-son themes by amalgamating them with leitmotifs of fate and retribution. The first act is so well constructed you won’t believe it until you see it, the trouble is, it is so flawless that the events that succeed it pale in comparison. Ryan Gosling is one of the few actors who can effortlessly slip from toughness to vulnerability in a heartbeat, and can be interesting without actually doing anything. He uses that skill to incredible effect here. He plays a wayward motorcycle stunt driver who returns to his hometown and discovers that his onetime lover (Eva Mendes) and their infant son are now living with another man. Desperate to provide for his son, he quits his carnival job and becomes a car mechanic at a local garage, but when that turns out to be insufficient he is forced to loot banks and make his getaways using his skills as a biker.

The role sounds similar to the one in Drive but Gosling doesn’t repeat his performance here, and Cianfrance’s story takes a different route altogether. Bradley Cooper plays a cop who chases the renegade biker, he doles out his best performance to date as a conniving, remorse filled public hero. The superb Dane DeHaan rises above the material in the final third although his character is all too familiar – he played the same disturbed kid from a broken home with daddy issues in Chronicle, and he’s Harry Osborn in the next SpiderMan film. Cianfrance channels his inner Terrence Malick at times, with moody floating camerawork and otherworldly music to boot. More importantly, he doesn’t cheapen the movie by Hollywoodizing the heist and chase scenes. In the final hour Cianfrance bites off more than he can chew, he tries to say a lot without being entirely sure as to what to say. He beautifully juxtaposes and swaps the hero and the antihero in the second act, but dabbling in the same themes over and over again in the third act comes off as needless spoonfeeding. 

(First published in MiD Day)

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