Ryan Gosling Is Your Trailer Park Prince Valiant in The Place Beyond the Pines

The Place Beyond the Pines opens with a close-up of Ryan Gosling's chiseled abdomen—surely one of the more salable quantities in movies today—and heavy breathing on the soundtrack (or was that just the person next to me in the screening room?). Then, in a single, five-minute tracking shot, we follow Gosling's character, Luke, across a fairground and into the tent where he and two other stunt motorcycle performers ride their bikes into a large sphere known (per the press notes) as the "globe of death." Around they go, defying gravity and mortality—and, one assumes, proving something to themselves. It's a pretty apt metaphor for most of what follows in this tortured study of masculine ethos across the generations, of failed fathers and the sons doomed to become them—all circling about in one big, existential steel cage.

If that sounds heavy-handed, well, yes, it is, though it's one of the fascinating and frustrating things about The Place Beyond the Pines that you can't always tell if the testosterone-amped Sturm und Drang is meant sincerely or as a deadpan deflating of testosterone-amped Sturm und Drang. Certainly, Gosling's character verges on parody: Decked out in cutoff heavy-metal T-shirts, with a peroxide-blond dye job and a heavily tattooed body, he suggests a trailer-park Prince Valiant, a pubescent fantasy of toughness. And when Luke speaks, Gosling uses a soft, wounded half-whisper that tells us this is all some kind of put-on, that this brooding hulk just wants to be loved. It's a close variation on the role Gosling played to stronger effect in Nicolas Winding Refn's existential Hollywood thriller, Drive, where it was clear the character was meant to be an abstraction (hell, he didn't even have a name). Here, the setting is the more pragmatic, working-class town of Schenectady, and the director is Derek Cianfrance, who previously collaborated with Gosling on another portrait of male ego: the marital drama Blue Valentine.

What is it about this particular stretch of upstate New York that inspires such feverish overreaching in filmmakers? Just a few years ago, Charlie Kaufman made it the locus of Synecdoche, New York, his brilliant but bloated portrait of the artist as a middle-aged head case, and now Cianfrance has made a similarly epic (140 minutes), go-for-broke, everything-I-ever- wanted-to-put-into-a-movie movie. It seems to have been conceived (by Cianfrance and his co-screenwriters, Ben Coccio and Darius Marder) in a dazed rush, after marathon readings of Aeschylus, Hemingway, and Larry Brown. Sure to inspire indifference and cultish admiration in nearly equal measure, this extravagant mess may someday be re-evaluated as a misunderstood masterpiece.

Luke's story is but one of three that Cianfrance sets out to tell—not overlapping à la Babeland Crash, but rather laid out end-to-end, like links in an infernal cosmic chain. Reeling from the discovery that a casual fling with a waitress (Eva Mendes, one of the film's mostly expendable women) has resulted in an infant son, Luke decides to quit the carny circuit and, with a little prompting from a local mechanic (Animal Kingdom's Ben Mendelsohn), takes up the more lucrative profession of armed robbery. Their m.o. consists of Luke knocking over banks, speeding away from the scene on his bike and right into the back of Mendelsohn's waiting cargo truck. But when Luke starts to get a little too daring for his own good, his partner blanches, warning, "If you ride like lightning, you're gonna crash like thunder"—a line that sounds like it was salvaged from the floor of the Talladega Nights writers room.

Luke does crash, figuratively speaking, in to rookie cop Avery Cross (Bradley Cooper), who's clearly working on his own set of self-identification and daddy issues. Avery is a father, too, of a boy roughly the same age as Luke's, and if you think that bit of plotting won't eventually be milked for its full Jacobean portent, you'd best leave before the movie reaches Act III: "15 Years Later." In the meantime, Cooper effectively takes over the picture, as the mood shifts from brooding romantic melodrama to terse police procedural in the key of Sidney Lumet. Cooper's terrific, too, oozing raw charisma and callow self-interest, a dangerous combination in a precinct rife with dirty cops (including a detective named Deluca played with snarling menace by Ray Liotta, whose dirtiness is actually supposed to come as a surprise).

A graduate of the University of Colorado film school, where he studied with avant-garde masters Stan Brakhage and Phil Solomon, Cianfrance is a gifted stylist with a penchant for the mythic (even Blue Valentine, his most strictly realistic work, felt less like a movie about a marriage than the movie about marriage). His best film remains his debut, Brother Tied(1998), a modern riff on the Cain and Abel story set in small-town Colorado, brilliantly shot in black-and-white and widely screened at festivals (including Sundance), but never distributed and now almost impossible to see. The Place Beyond the Pines is a much bigger canvas, and scene by scene it can be riveting, in part because of the meticulous widescreen camerawork (the d.p. this time is Sean Bobbitt, who shot Hunger and Shamefor Steve McQueen) and also because of Cianfrance's sure touch with actors, who manage to rise above the ultimately thin and repetitive material. Toward the end, there is some especially fine work by two relative newcomers, Emory Cohen (from Antonio Campos's Afterschool) and Dane DeHaan (who played Shia LaBeouf's wiry young friend in Lawless), cast, respectively, as the sons of cop and robber, trying to make sense of their entwined destinies. But the disparate pieces never quite jell; the movie is all trees and no forest.

 
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31 comments
marty1234
marty1234

A dark version of Raising Arizona with a fucked up Nathan Jr...

Caitlin Bennett
Caitlin Bennett

Fun Fact of the Day: The title of Cianfrance’s "The Place Beyond the Pines" is the English translation of the Iroquois word “Schenectady”

lextacy93
lextacy93

It goes without saying that Ryan Gosling really shines in anything that he does. My particular favorite being Blue Valentine, I couldnt turn down seeing the second collaboration of Gosling and  Cianfrance. I really enjoyed the inner struggle that Bradley Cooper and Ryan Gosling faced. I admired how Ryan's character wanted to be in his child's life even though he chose to turn into a criminal in order to support him. You have to respect a man who will risk anything for their child.  As for Eva Mendes, I never really liked her and her role in this film still hasnt changed that. To me she just wasnt a believable, poor, woman. She most definately plays a bitch better.

Georgie B
Georgie B

Now eagerly anticipating The Place Beyond the Pines. :)

Nick
Nick

Wait, is The Place Beyond The Pines basically Drive 2??? Goddammit Gosling…

Michael Harrington
Michael Harrington

Went and saw The Place Beyond the Pines. Hated it. However, would love for all my international friends to see a real picture of America.

Gustavo Silva
Gustavo Silva

"One moment defines your life, one decision becomes your legacy" The Place Beyond the Pines

Tyler Schirado
Tyler Schirado

I have a date with Ryan Gosling and Bradley Cooper tonight when I see 'The Place Beyond the Pines,' Be jealous ladies.

Stephen Phelan
Stephen Phelan

The Place Beyond The Pines can't possibly be as strange or compulsive as Mike Patton's music score for it.

Monica
Monica

Definitely going to see The Place Beyond the Pines because I am NOT missing Ryan Gosling and Bradley Cooper in the same movie

Francia Rahiman
Francia Rahiman

The Place Beyond the Pines was filmed in my high school yet they're not releasing it in my city?

Adam Wise
Adam Wise

The place beyond the pines looks soooo sick. I wanna see it so bad

TJ Randall
TJ Randall

The Place Beyond the Pines looks incredibly good.

Malicore
Malicore

Just found out Mike Patton scored The Place Beyond The Pines. Mind Blown! Now it's a must see for me.

Rose
Rose

The Place Beyond The Pines trailer is so beautiful it gives me goose bumps

Mr. Blonde
Mr. Blonde

The Place Beyond the Pines looks to good to pass up, but I wonder how many will choose to see G.I. Joe instead.

Tiernan O'Rourke
Tiernan O'Rourke

I did not realize Mike Patton was scoring The Place Beyond The Pines! 10x more excited now!

♡venus xtravaganza♡
♡venus xtravaganza♡

excited for The Place Beyond the Pines, Evil Dead, Trance + Antiviral and that's it for the next month smh

Mtume Gant
Mtume Gant

Really looking forward to "The Place Beyond The Pines"

Chris Lazo
Chris Lazo

The place beyond the pines looks like such an incredible movie...

Marc Pemberton
Marc Pemberton

Just found out The Place Beyond the Pines is only a limited release. That means I'll have to wait for it to come out DVD.

Eliza
Eliza

@401show The Place beyond the pines. And it was truly amazing! You should definitely see it!

Michael Lozano
Michael Lozano

The place beyond the pines looks like a really good movie

Cai Aled Groves
Cai Aled Groves

The place beyond the pines just seems like Drive but with a few more conversations added.

 

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