We’ve suffered through the first few months of a tepid 2013. Sure they’re the “dump” months, but I’m gonna be honest, it’s been years since I’ve gone 60 days without managing to see one adequate movie, usually unfairly maligned, that was put out to pasture by its financiers. March is upon us, and with it a host of studio blockbusters and smaller, grittier fare fighting for your attention. Is The Place Beyond The Pines worth your time and money?
My first word of advice: Leave your expectations at the door. If you’ve seen any of the marketing for the film, you’re probably getting a vibe similar to Ryan Gosling’s previous independent hit, Drive. This is by design. With the exception of his casting, and the fact that his character has a penchant for fast vehicles and criminal undertones, the two projects have almost nothing in common. The Place Beyond the Pines is a generational epic with a unique storytelling structure and an ensemble that rivals its bigger budgeted brethren. The lack of studio oversight has allowed for the creation of a wildly ambitious and deeply emotional movie… though its approach is simultaneously its greatest strength and its most devastating weakness. This film doesn’t exist to be anyone’s entertainment, and I’d hesitate to recommend it to someone who doesn’t have a healthy respect for the power of the medium. Everywhere you look, the world is painted in shades of grey, with characters becoming more or less sympathetic, but never truly “good” or “bad.” Most audiences aren’t used to having a complex relationship with the characters in a film, particularly the leads, and it’s easy to see where the casual viewer might dismiss the movie outright. However, for those of us who enjoy more challenging fare, Pines strikes a great balance between leading you down the path, and giving you the space to draw your own conclusions.
Going too far into the turning point moments would ruin the experience, so I’ll try to address the structure in more general terms. Pines is a long movie. With a first cut rumored at over 3 and a half hours, it’s easy to see that the filmmakers wanted to build an all-encompassing saga. The final film is about 2 hours and 20 minutes, and given that its three acts are, in fact, three separate narrative threads that occur in sequence, it’s actually a pretty modest length. Conventional wisdom would have suggested a style of editing rife with flashbacks and intercutting, but the director chose a much more methodical, chronological approach that keeps the story moving and prevents the audience from getting the chance to stop and reflect before the credits roll. The opportunity to experience the events of the film with the characters in real time is rare in contemporary filmmaking, and the disregard for cinematic tropes gives the whole project an added level of integrity.
The performances are terrific across the board. I know it seems cliché to say that with Ryan Gosling, but Bradley Cooper and Eva Mendes are also both completely on top of their game. With so many characters, it’s impressive how many make a noticeable impact on the plot, and everyone carries a similar amount of weight. Even Ray Liotta, and Rose Byrne, the other two “big names” in the cast, don’t draw any more attention to themselves than the parts require, showing real team spirit and a dedication to the material. As the story progresses and the world fills out, there’s a genuine sense of familiarity with the town of Schenectady NY, where the script is based and the film was shot. The location is as much a presence as any of the players, and the atmosphere is meticulously reinforced with the shot selection and the score.
Do I believe The Place Beyond the Pines will resonate with every viewer like it did for me? Probably not. In fact, the subject matter alone might initiate a bit of a gender divide. A story of fathers and sons won’t inspire the same reaction with a female crowd, but maybe they’ll be moved by completely separate elements. I can only speak from experience, and what I saw was a powerful, arresting, and ultimately moving film that aimed for the sky and only rarely fell short. I walked in expecting another Drive and left with a wholly unique feeling in the pit of my stomach, one I will continue to ruminate on for many days to come. 2013 has started off painfully slow, but if Pines is any indication, this could be yet another terrific year for movies. I’m excited to see what happens next.
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