Film review: THE PLACE BEYOND THE PINES, from Built For Speed

For the life of me I can’t understand the fuss about Ryan Gosling.  He has been dubbed the actor of his generation but to my mind that honour firmly belongs to Michael Fassbender.  For me Gosling’s minimalist acting and smirking arrogant manner have stopped most of his films cold.  A movie with the right script and sympathetic direction, however, can make Master Gosling’s idiosyncratic style tolerable.  The gritty drama The Place Beyond the Pines is one such film.

The Place Beyond the Pines drags us through two generations of broken lives in the working class New York town of Schenectady. Ryan Gosling plays sullen motorbike stuntman Luke Glanton who discovers he’s a fathered a boy named Jason to former girlfriend Romina (Eva Mendes).  Desperate to connect with his son, Luke tries to finagle his way back into Romnina’s life but is rejected at every turn.   In classic dead beat dad fashion he decides that the best way to ingratiate himself to Romina is to become a bank robber.  This decision has tragic consequences not only for Luke, Romina and Jason but also for cop and aspiring District Attorney Avery Cross (Bradley Cooper).

With a circle of life narrative that crams three films into one and a timeline that spans two generations, The Place Beyond the Pines is epic in scope (and in length) but introspective in tone. Although it contains violent outbursts and some pulse pounding motorbike chases, it is for the most part a slow moving film that will test the patience of some audiences but will prove hypnotic to others.  Particularly impressive is the film’s atmospheric cinematography which mixes probing close-ups of the emotionally tortured characters with imposing tracking shots that follow Gosling as he tears through the verdant but ominous back roads of Schenectady on his motorbike.

Gosling actually puts his typically blank manner and imposing physical presence to good use in this film.  Like the nameless killer he played in Drive he exudes a quiet menace but in Pines raw, realistic setting, his character is much more believable.  Bradley Cooper, whose story dominates the film’s middle section, hasn’t entirely shaken off his comical pretty boy persona but still imbues Cross with a palpable sadness and makes him a sympathetic and conflicted character.

The film benefits from a fine supporting cast with Ray Liotta the stand out as a menacing bent cop who constantly pressures Cross to compromise his integrity.  For the brief time that he appears in this film Liotta commands the screen.  Emory Cohen is also memorable as Cross’s obnoxious, drug gobbling would-be gangster son AJ who becomes a central figure in the film’s third chapter.  Despite a dodgy American accent, Australia’s Ben Mendelsohn, who plays Glanton’s dishevelled partner in crime Robin, continues his impressive run as likeable low-lifes in edgy US films.  As the teenage version of Glanton’s son Jack, Dane DeHann (who’s actually 26) delivers a fine performance that convincingly mixes innocence with bitterness and disillusion.

The Place Beyond the Pines is a tense, thoughtful, well-acted and often emotionally charged film but at 140 minutes requires considerable patience.


Nick’s rating: Three and half stars.

Classification: MA 15+

Director(s): Derek Cianfra

Release date: 9th May 2013

Running time: 140 mins.

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