Wednesday, May 8, 2013

A Price Beyond This Time

     Place Beyond the Pines is a film I have been looking forward to pretty much since I heard it was being made.  I quite enjoyed writer/director Derek Cianfrance's 2010 critical break out Blue Valentine, and the news that he would be re-teaming with "Valentine" star Ryan Gosling in the follow up was just icing on the cake.  I wasn't really sure what to expect out of "Pines".  It seemed from the early buzz and promotionals to have some heavy action elements involved, which seems a pretty far cry from the turgid love story of Blue Valentine.  I shouldn't have worried.  Cianfrance is proving to be a director who is capable of handling a variety of genres and tones with equal ease.
     If I had to pick one signature marker of the man's directing style thus far, it would be his pacing. Cianfrance takes his time to tell a story, creating films that unfurl at a speed much more akin to European dramas than most of their domestic counterparts.  He makes sure to show us more than he tells us, allowing us to draw our own conclusions about the characters lives, similar to the way in which we learn about our own.  This helps to create characters that seem less like mere functionaries of the plot, and more like fully realized human beings whose complex choices shape and guide the story.
     Speaking of pacing, editing team Jim Helton and Ron Patane (who return from Blue Valentine) do an exceptional job with this picture.  The story might be a tad slow for the average attention span, but (save for a SLIGHT lag in Act II), it suited me just fine.  Their true triumph, however, lies in the specific cuts they chose to use from scene to scene.  Often the transitional images enhanced each other's impact, or helped to tie the two scenes they bridged together thematically in ways that were notable without being obvious or cheesy.
     I fell in love with the work of cinematographer Sean Bobbitt when I saw Shame, giving him sixth place in my Best of 2011 series for the film (and it was a COMPETITIVE year for cinematographers).  He was an excellent choice for this film.  The images in "Pines" tell us just as much as the words that are spoken, consistent with a storytelling style that values demonstration over exposition.  The cross-country motorcycle ride vistas have set the bar very high for 2013's cinematographers.  Bobbitt's fine lensing will also be visible this year in Steve McQueen's Twelve Years a Slave.  I have no doubt that film will be beautiful to behold as well.
     Place Beyond the Pines is a story told in three acts, with each act focusing on a different actor.  Act One belongs entirely to Ryan Gosling, who is both a great rising movie star and a superbly talented actor.  What makes him a great movie star is partially his good looks, which are astounding.  His "star power" is more rooted, however, in that intangible "X" factor that just makes him infinitely interesting to watch and listen to.  Call it "screen presence", or just "charisma", he has it in spades and it can't be quantified.  It makes you feel consoled by the fact that you got to watch him even when he's in a film of less than stellar quality.  He is a great actor, because he is gifted and obviously serious about his trade.  He has enormous range of characters that he is capable of playing and commits to each role completely.  Here he plays a much more inept role than the uber-capable types he has mostly played of late, a man who tries very hard, but completely in vain.
     Act Two is the story of Bradley Cooper's character.  I regret to inform that this was the weakest of the three parts, in my opinion, the only time in the movie that I wanted the pace to pick up just a hair.  This is very minor complaint, however, as it was still MOSTLY riveting viewing.  Cooper continues to show that he has acting chops which extend FAR beyond broad comedy.  Not only does he demonstrate the ability to handle more serious material in way that is far more understated and naturalistic that what he was asked to do in Silver Linings Playbook, he has NO comedic elements to fall back on.  The actor does an excellent job, even if Gosling has already stolen the show a bit.
     Act Three is set several years after the first two and focuses upon a character played by Dane DeHaan, who first caught my attention last year in Lawless.  In Place Beyond the Pines, he plays a far stronger and independent character immediately impressing upon me that, like the film's other two stars, this young actor has the range and ability to surprise us.  He's a new talent to keep an eye on.
     Of course, the movie also features a whole host of supporting work.  Rose Byrne and Eva Mendes portray the two main women in the story.  Both give respectable turns in somewhat limited roles.  Emory Cohen (best known from TV's Smash) shows signs of possible crossover potential.  Ben Mendelsohn, as usual, proves himself an immensely gifted character actor, and Ray Liotta continues to carve out a niche as the go-to supporting heavy we don't root for.
     I have tried very hard not to give away too much about Place Beyond the Pines' plot, but I would like to say that (like Blue Valentine) it is a story that is rooted very much in showing the changes that are wrought in life over time.  In it, not only are the sins of the fathers revisited on the sons, but they rebound back on the fathers as well.  Derek Cianfrance shows us once again how the choices we make and the things we don't take note of can change our destiny in countless unforeseen and undesired ways...4 1/2 of 5 stars.

  Related Articles:  Innkeepers of Blood and Shame (Shame review), Dark Clouds Beautify "Silver Linings"Elena's Brave Law (Lawless review)

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