'The Place Beyond The Pines' Movie Review: 'Pines' Delivers Moving, Powerful Action And Emotion
At a glance, there doesn't seem to be anything exceptionally original about this story. A skilled, handsome, very tagged young motor cross rider, Luke (Ryan Gosling), works as a daredevil bike performer and travels around with a mobile carnival. After meeting his spawn in a small town, he quits his job as a performer to stay and provide for the child and its mother (Eva Mendez). He starts working at an auto shop, but soon discovers that the money he earns isn't enough. And from that point, there is only a short leap to Luke starting his career as a heavy criminal. This is the onset of the first part of the epic story of The Place Beyond the Pines.
Sound familiar? Gosling riding around, becoming an unvoluntary criminal with a cause. There are some striking similarities to Drive, both in terms of the plot and the character Gosling takes on. But just as with Drive, the plot is less important than the wrapping of the whole package.
The setting is perhaps what feels most "indie" about this film. Both parts of the story take place in upstate New York, starting and finishing in the town of Schenectady. The forest is constantly present, and the lush green leaf trees and pines are tempering the sounds of the small town, embedding the story in an almost Lynch-esque mood. The landscape adds to the moist and thickness of the characters, and their fates seem even closer and more intertwined than they would be in a large city.
Gosling is involved in award winners. He is indeed an actor who induces a certain kind of mood into a movie. This is undoubtedly an award-winning film, even if it loses speed after the first climax, when the setting and characters change. It has all the necessary ingredients: the moral dilemma is there, plenty of room for some serious low key acting, a bad guy who really isn't that bad, and a good guy that isn't really that good after all. We are rooting for almost everyone at some point in the story, and it goes full circle, in between the pine trees in twilight, where the hero and the hopeless underdog finally face off. The story is decided long before that though, and it becomes slightly too predictable too soon. The jump to fifteen years later is never a clever move in an already emotional plot, especially not when we have just had an emotional pay-off, and the "hero" is gone from the scene.
This is Gosling's show entirely, which is clear from the very bold beginning. He makes a memorable entrance into this story, showing off his extreme fitness and many tacky tats, dressing up in a Megadeath tee and red leather jacket on his way to the bike show. After that he could be mean as hell and we wouldn't care. He is our hero, no matter what he does wrong.
Gosling is very much like he was in Drive, displaying his usual silent, delinquent, droopy-eyed and moping acting. He is stuck in that type-casted role, but he does it better and better, even if it comes with a lingering feeling of deja vu. But he certainly has brought a new flavor to the low-key action criminal of the 21th century.
The police hero, Avery (Bradley Cooper) arrives for the second half. There isn't room for two equally strong heroes within the storyline, and it could have been a more interesting story if Cooper and Gosling had been antagonists longer than for the few seconds it takes for Avery to kill biker Luke off in the quickest and most realistic amateur duel ever watched on a screen.
Cooper is great as a righteous copper, but he arrives too late for us to work up a care for him, unfortunately. Mendez's performance is excellent, and even though she has a small part, she, along with Gosling, brings most of the emotion to this movie. Other characters like Ray Liotta's corrupt police officer Deluca don't have the time to make a lasting impression. Wothy of mentioning and lined up for the Best Supporting Actor award at next year's Oscars is Ben Mendelsohn as the greasy good-hearted auto shop owner Robin.
The whole film is dramatically low-key and slow paced even though there is daredevil biking, robberies, car chases and shootouts involved. When shots are fired there are just a few — enough to turn the whole story around like a flipped coin. The action is very effective because of its sparsity. The overall cinematic experience is enhanced by a lot of well-placed sound effects and music. The sound is manipulated with care, becoming very loud, distorted, high pitched and even chaotic at times. There is a redundancy of revving engines and turbulent rock. It is accompanied by the piano score, composed by the legendary Ennio Morricone, sounding like the loneliest string of notes ever produced in a large, empty and obscure warehouse.
The scenes are basically made up of handheld camera shots, clattered with close-ups and excessive color filtering. The make-up is of the kind that gives the impression of no make-up at all. The result is quite beautiful, dirty and sometimes shockingly chaotic. The roughness of the filming adds to the turmoil of the scenes.
Undoubtedly, it smells like there could be an award or two for this movie. It is gripping — largely because of the great acting and cinematography. However, the story is slightly too long. The teenage descendants to the original heroes quite expectedly take over, and the whole thing evolves into a classic tale of "putting a bullet in the head of your father's killer." At that point we all feel like there has been too much water under the bridge to really get emotionally involved. Still, there is a lot of good action going on between the pines.
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