THE PLACE BEYOND THE PINES: A Review of possibly the best film of the year

Just wow – what a film of epic and deep proportions. The first thing I had to do was find out about the title – The Place Beyond the Pines – it just made no sense, ok, there was a scene or two in the pines but they weren’t really pivotal or enough to title the film because of. But research shines a light on the title – it is actually a loose English meaning of the name of the city where the film is shot, Schenectady, New York. It is derived loosely from a Mohawk word for “place beyond the pine plains.” Glad I sorted that one out.

 

The Place Beyond the Pines
The Place Beyond the Pines

 

Schenectady is a town that is like Twin Peaks on valium, a depressed, green, moist and nearly forgotten town of the US which must be like so many other towns of the US, I was quite surprised to see it is so close to New York. Literally 2hrs from the Empire State but it looks like another planet. Like most small town people money is tight.

The film is beyond brilliant, it is pretty much my masterpiece of the year so far, and its success lies in its actors, its direction, its cinematography, its music and its symbiotic trilogy story in the one film. This is three unique films all joined and all as important as the other and each weak without the other. It is a three act Shakespearean dark dark drama that shows how one tiny act can unravel lives and effect generations for years to come. It is small town Star Wars meets the Godfather without lightsabres or a Godfather.

 

The Place Beyond the Pines
The Place Beyond the Pines

 

Story 1: Ryan Gosling, or more LUKE (his character). Luke is a carny of sorts, he is a wicked bike rider who does wicked things with a bike, he is a daredevil that rides in The Globe of Death with two other riders, his timing and his skill is nearly unparalleled but his life is one dimensional and he is the cool bike riding carny travelling from carnival to carnival until he realises one of his one night stands from last year’s carnival has had a child, his son. This rocks his world and he realises this has become his sole purpose in life, to start his life with Romina (Mendes) and to do the right thing and raise his child (Jason). But things have changed and Romina has her own life and Luke is basically penniless. This leads him to criminal acts that will echo through his and many lives for years to come………….

Story 2: Bradley Cooper, or more AVERY (his character). Avery is a very ambitious cop in a very corrupt police force, who takes the call after one of LUKE’s criminal acts. He uses his situation and circumstance to rise through the ranks of the police hierarchy. He is so determined on his advancement and ambition but is constantly under fear it could all crumble around him. He also has the problem of his past and has never been able to look his son (AJ) in the eye or have much love for him……………..

Story 3: I am not telling………………. It is a continuation of the above story but do not want to give it all away for you. But all these characters are in each story and the focus of the story just shifts. It is so superbly handled it borders on mind blowing.

 

The Place Beyond the Pines
The Place Beyond the Pines

 

The acting is “clean-sweep” Oscar worthy. Gosling gives his best performance yet and it closely resembles a more troubled “Driver” from Drive. He underplays this performance and internalises it so much that it broke my heart. He was so uneducated, so alone, so confused on the difference between what he thought right and wrong was and what really was right and wrong that regardless of what he does you still root for him. He is doing what he thinks is best to the best of his ability and you have to admire his convictions. He isn’t a bad person, he just did some bad things for the right reasons.

Gosling is so pumped for this role, his body is out of control built. He shot all those bank scenes in real banks and they were all done in one take each. He is one impressive actor. The opening scene is an incredibly long one shot scene in a real carnival. In this opening track shot scene, several assistant directors actually appear on the fairground wearing Dr. Seuss hats. They were instructed to distract the extras into not looking at the camera and at a shirtless Ryan Gosling walking into the a circus tent. Boy, did they have a job on their hands. This opening scene set the pace and tone of the film and it was such a beautifully shot scene. One thing though, even I could do better butterfly knife tricks when I was a kid 🙂 But I could not shoot 22 takes performing the stunt of speeding the motorcycle past the intersection before 36 cars crashed into one another. Director, Cianfrance, originally wanted a stunt double to do it but could not hide the stuntman. He also noted that for each take until Gosling finally got it right, he chewed his shirt in nervousness until there was a hole in it by the time the stunt was over. So ok Mr Gosling, I will let you off 🙂

 

The Place Beyond the Pines
The Place Beyond the Pines

 

Bradley Cooper also gives the performance of his life. When I first saw Cooper in Alias I thought he was a geeky cutie with glasses, stupid me never thought that some fake glasses could make a good actor look geeky. I got the cute right but I completely missed the part where he would become a Hollywood A-Lister who is pined for by men and women the world over and be a very talented actor. He just goes from strength to strength and for me this is his most engaging performance, he had me intrigued in every scene. You can just see his desire for success and ambition battling with his fear of failure and shame of his past. Brilliant!

Eva Mendes is superb in the film but she has small part. It was Gosling that suggested her for the part and she did it will. Rose Byrne, similarly did well but her part was even smaller. Ben Mendelsohn is brilliant in his part and I loved every second of him onscreen, he is such an underrated actor and I want more of him. Ray Liotta I normally loathe on film, I have always felt a perpetual desperate B Grade actor battling to be noticed with his performances but in this film he is so chilling and devours the lens. His part is also small but grand in presence. I will pay him more respect from now on.

 

The Place Beyond the Pines
The Place Beyond the Pines

 

The other actor I bow to and will always watch on film. I just LOVE Dane DeHaan – he stole the show in Chronicle and does the troubled gangly kid so well. He is ten times better in this film than he was in Chronicle and I am stinging to see more and more of him on film.

Director, Derek Cianfrance, delivers and maestros a superb film with many many layers, the film is incredibly long and I am looking forward to multiple viewings in this one, where I am sure I will pick up on all the things I have missed. Cianfrance’s previous film, BLUE VALENTINE, also starred Gosling, and I have to admit to not actually seeing this, although after this one it has made it to the top of my list. Cianfrance also wrote this film with Ben Coccio and Darius Marder and says he would never have made it without Cooper, he drove 5 hours to Toronto to meet with Cooper in person to convince him to take the role. Cianfrance says he did write the role for Cooper – “a guy who’s paraded around as a hero but inside feels corrupted.”

 

The Place Beyond the Pines
The Place Beyond the Pines

 

As for Gosling, he was already on board, pretty much since 2007. According to Cianfrance, he met with Ryan Gosling at his agent’s home in 2007 while working on Blue Valentine. He asked Ryan Gosling (paraphrased), “You’ve done so much already, what is there in life you haven’t done that you want to do?” Ryan Gosling responded that he has always wanted to rob a bank. “What has kept you from robbing a bank?” Being arrested. “And how would you go about robbing a bank?” Ryan Gosling described robbing a bank on a motorcycle because it is fast and agile, and the helmet would conceal his identity, then stashing the motorcycle in the back of a truck because the police would be looking for the motorcycle. Derek Cianfrance responded that he was actually writing a screenplay about a bank robber in exactly that way, and he felt that Ryan Gosling was meant to play this role. See – it was meant to be :).

 

The Place Beyond the Pines
The Place Beyond the Pines

 

Two other things I have to mention about this film that are very strong characters and tone setters. The music and the cinematography – in regards to the music, it is spellbinding and emotionally manipulative, for this I will be buying it after this article for the iPod. Then the cinematography of Sean Bobbit. It is just beautiful and suited for the big screen, it is melancholic and comforting with a tinge of weeping. Colours are saturated, with actors often framed against hazy, luminous backgrounds in widescreen close-up. Most of the scenes are really tightly shot, the action is always bouncy and there are some really long takes. Bobbit also shot Shame and then Hysteria last year and is working on the upcoming Byzantium.

I can’t rave enough about this film but be prepared, it is a very down and sometimes depressing film. And it is long, a mammoth 2.5hours long will take its toll on some people’s attention spans. I was sad it was ending but each tale has closure and at the end of the second tale you may think it is over but there is an entire other story coming. I loved this film and wanted to hug it. It gets a nomination for Best Picture and Actors Oscar from me and is worth a well deserved 10 out 10 first time vanilla ice-creams. The Place Beyond the Pines is playing for previews this weekend at selected cinemas with full release next week at most cinemas in Australia.