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“The Place Beyond the Pines” film review

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Derek Cianfrance’s new film, The Place Beyond the Pines, is exactly what you would expect from the director of the critically acclaimed Blue Valentine. It follows an unusual structure, features some of the most intense and genuine acting you will find onscreen, and resolves its story while still leaving the audience members thinking on the themes of the film. In this case, consequence. In case that is not enough, it features an amazing cast, including Ryan Gosling, Eva Mendes, Bradley Cooper, and Ray Liotta.

The film begins with Ryan Gosling. Gosling immediately stands out for the bleeding danger tattoo beside his eye and the short, bleached blond hair that makes the actor look less attractive than his audience harem may be accustomed to. Luke (Gosling) is a world-class motorcycle driver, doing stunts at the traveling carnival to earn his keep. Romina (Mendes) visits Luke at the carnival and hints at an affection long passed. When the biker then goes to visit Romina’s home, he discovers the child that she had never disclosed to him. This is when the story truly begins.

Cianfrance’s film is laid out in a triptych format. A triptych is an old, Greek structuring in which three pieces of art are laid side-by-side and generally tell a single story. In Beyond the Pines, this is done by first telling Luke’s story, then Avery’s (Bradley Cooper), then Avery’s son’s (Emory Cohen). Although an unusual format, the structuring allows more story to be told at once.

Yet, there is no rehashing between the story lines. One is told and simply passes the baton on to the other, continuing on. When Luke begins robbing banks to give his son some money, Avery is the cop brought in to arrest him. Then we see through Avery’s eyes the problems arising within the department. Time passes. Avery’s son is getting into his own trouble with a new friend, Jason (Dane DeHaan), and struggling to cope with the legacy his father is trying to pass down to him.

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With a strong background in documentary filmmaking, Cianfrance asks things from his actors that most other directors would not. He puts them in as realistic situations as possible and then gives them the choice to act. When Luke is robbing the banks, for example, Cianfrance cast customers and tellers who had been victim of an actual bank robbery before, knowing they would have a better sense of how to respond. When they were then less than afraid of Gosling, it forced Gosling to step up his desperation (hence the screeching voice he achieves in the film). The director explained that he usually uses either the first take or the last, because they tend to be the most real.

At two hours and twenty minutes, the film is an epic that takes some level of dedication to achieve. The triptych format, while allowing for more story, can also reduce the level of investment that the audience has in the various protagonists, making the already considerable running time feel that much longer. In addition, there is little action in the film; the majority is dialogue and the observation of consequences for each one’s choices. This keeps the film at a well-timed yet slow place and may be difficult for anyone restless to endure.

Beyond the Pines has a dozen or more laughs throughout, but is very heavily a dramatic and realistic piece which drifts in and out of being a thriller. The script, written by Cianfrance, never seems like a script at all. The entire film is a glimpse into these lives which, perhaps, you are not supposed to be watching; it feels conspiratorial somehow. The music aids in this feeling, often present without overpowering, hinting at the deceit and fear that each character feels and that you, in turn, feel too. Worse is the silence, when all you hear are the noises of the car on the isolated forest road, knowing Ray Liotta is angry with you and waiting in the dark patch of clearing covered by the pines.

This is the kind of movie that may take multiple viewings to truly appreciate. The first watch seems like conquering a mountain to keep up and stay invested, especially if you are not expecting the long duration. The second watch allows you to focus on the many, many details that you missed. How Luke wipes his hands before holding the baby or the different handling of AJ’s and Jason’s drug situation, for example.

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(Focus Features)

For those interested in investing in deep thought and not afraid to be a little uncomfortable, The Place Beyond the Pines is a film with an amazing offering. It is the kind of movie, however, which will likely be seen as boring, drawn out, and confusing for those used to standard structuring and endings. And, in case you are wondering, the title of the film refers to the actual meaning of the town name, Synechode, where the story takes place.

The film also stars Rose Byrne, Ben Mendelsohn, Mahershala Ali, and Gabe Fazio. It is rated R and was released into theaters on Friday, March 29.

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