The Place Beyond The Pines Review By Adam
The majority of films these days – especially those manufactured by the Hollywood system – are utterly forgettable, stunningly disposable and, most disappointingly, bereft of ambition. Being a card-carrying movie geek makes me part of the problem and loads that previous statement with contradiction: Hollywood keeps pumping out the same shit because I keep lining up for it. No question, I like dudes in spandex (in the multiplex) and I like shit being blown up, but I appreciate a stab at the insurmountable even more, so a film like The Place Beyond the Pines is my cinematic nirvana. In a cinematic landscape where most films feel like a slogan, Pines is a tome. Bleak, raw, epic and vibrating with energy, Pines is a film to haunt your dreams, and, so far, the best thing I’ve seen in a cinema in 2013.
The Place Beyond the Pines follows Luke Glanton (Ryan Gosling), a nomadic, heavily tattooed, motorcycle stuntman. The monosyllabic Luke travels from place to place, leaving little but cigarette butts in his wake. This all changes when Luke travels to Schenectady, New York (known as ‘The place beyond the pine plains’). There he re-encounters the fragile Romina (Eva Mendes), a one-night stand from a previous tour. Luke’s attempts to get lucky (again) are defused when he finds out that their previous engagement produced a son. Newfound fatherhood has a profound effect on Luke and his paternal instinct kicks into overdrive; Luke will provide for Romina and his son no matter what. Luke’s romantic gestures fall flat when he realises that Schenectady offers few job prospects to a man of his appearance and quiet temperament. What Schenectady lacks in prospects, however, it makes up for in banks. And not only is Luke the fastest thing on a motorcycle, but he has just met someone who can get him a gun…
I’ve barely touched the surface of what is contained inside Pines, as this is a film for which even mentioning its structure feels like a semi -spoiler. But when a film is this good, it’s best just to discover it for yourself. It may take some recalibrating to enjoy the film’s constantly shifting focus, but writer/director Derek Cianfrance (with help from co-writers Ben Coccio and Darius Marder) is going for the big picture. It would be easy for him to recycle the endless cool of the film’s first half, but it’s his difficult choices that make this a substantial work. Some have criticised the film for being too ambitious (in my book, that’s like criticising food for tasting too good), but I’d rather be surprised and challenged by a film than suffer through rote, complacent storytelling for the umpteenth time. Some may find the events in Pines somewhat contrived (especially in the last act), but that feeling will be non-existent for anyone who sees this for what it really is: a filmic narrative, first and foremost. I sure as hell won’t complain – some suspension of disbelief feels like fair trade for this level of poignancy. Cianfrance’s highest priority is to serve the themes at his film’s core – legacy, fate, redemption – and not just create clever plot twists. With that in mind, Cianfrance’s use of symbolism in his last shots – a man riding towards his death and a man riding free – are sublime.
From the first minute, you know that Pines is something special. In a breathtaking tracking shot reminiscent of the works of Martin Scorsese or Paul Thomas Anderson, we follow Luke as he prepares for a death defying stunt. We start in a small trailer, watching him pace back and forth flicking a switchblade. After stabbing the wall, he walks through the showgrounds, dressing himself (yes ladies, Gosling starts this film topless) as he goes. After adorning himself in a Metallica singlet and red leather jacket (not to mention all the while puffing on a quick cig) Luke is ready for business. He traverses the crowd, sits on his bike, revs the engine and enters ‘The Dome of Death’. It’s dizzying stuff and automatically lets you know that you are in the hands of a cinematic master. Pines is director Derek Cianfrance’s third feature film, but like the Paul Thomas Anderson before him, Cianfrance was seemingly born with idiosyncratic cinematic instincts: he is the real deal. His previous film – the devastating Blue Valentine – showed a storytelling maturity and dynamic realism that harks back to cinema of the 1970s. Pines has both of those qualities in spades, and despite its unvarnished visual style, the film, as shot by cinematographer Sean Bobbitt (Shame) is often eerily beautiful and highly atmospheric. This atmosphere is amplified by Mike Patton’s haunting, sparse compositions (yeah, Mike fucking Patton did the soundtrack, that’s how cool this film is).
What can be said about Mr Gosling that hasn’t already been said? In a trajectory so bizarre that it makes Stephen Hawking’s head hurt, Ryan Gosling has evolved from mousketeer to coolest motherfucker on the planet. Michael Fassbender and Tom Hardy may have the world of transformative method acting under wraps, but for sheer screen cool, Gosling is the man. In fact, Pines is Gosling’s coolest work to date (yes, I’ve seen Drive. About ten times). Luke Glanton is a fully realised creation, with his leather jacket, perma-cig and ornate tattoos he is the coolest screen creation in years, add to that the lazy intensity of Gosling’s stare and you have cinematic dynamite. More surprising is just how sympathetic Glanton is – despite his rock hard exterior, Gosling manages to convey a lifetime of pain behind Luke’s eyes, and as a result we want to see this guy succeed. Hey, isn’t Bradley Cooper in this? Yup, and he is great too, so is Eva Mendes, Ben Mendelsohn and Ray Liotta, but I don’t want to talk about them. By the time you’re watching their stories unfold you’re already in the vice-like grip of Pines. I will, however, give a special shout out to the young Emory Cohen and Dane Dehann, both of whom are electrifying as boys who fell onto different sides of fate.
The relationship between film and critic is symbiotic by nature. I am in complete awe of film as a medium and I feel indebted to those films that transport me and provide a memorable experience. Pines wholeheartedly did that for me and that’s why this review is super cagey. I owe it to the film to spread the word, but not too wide – to spoil this would be a dickish move. I will say that this isn’t for everyone, but if you are a fan of ambitious, challenging filmmaking with serious intent (and everyone really should be) then put this right at the top of your list, because so far, The Place Beyond the Pines is the best film of 2013.